In Ming Dynasty China the Imperial court tasks Ocean (Louis Koo), a righteous kung fu constable, with guarding a strange creature with powerful martial arts skills. So powerful the Emperor's right-hand eunuch, Crane (Alex Fong), aims to turn it into a useful weapon. However, Ocean balks at the cruelty and torture inflicted upon the innocent little furball, whom he names Lucky, and sets it free. Some time later alluring, albeit unfortunately-named, swordswoman-in-white Frigid (Bea Hayden) hires thieves Blade (Cheney Chen) and Bella (Zhou Dongyu), who is not-so-secretly-besotted with her partner, to help pull off a heist. Joined by abacus-wielding old hermit Mr. Mount (Wang Taili), bickering bandits Saucy (Pan Bin-Long) and Dash (Kong Lian-shun) and Cypress (Bao Bei-Er), a mysterious misfit who falls through the roof at their meeting place in an abandoned temple and craftily infiltrates the group, they set out to rob an Imperial convoy supposedly bearing 30,000 taels of silver. In reality what Frigid has them steal is the box containing her captive lover. None other than Ocean who lies paralyzed by poisoned needles. Whereupon Lucky bursts onto the scene and freaks everyone out with a newfound ability to morph into a raging behemoth. Caught between a kung fu monster and Crane's vengeful Imperial guardsmen, the thieves must decide whether to help Ocean and Lucky take a stand or hand both over for a handsome reward.
With Storm Riders (1998) and its thematically-similar follow-ups A Man Called Hero (1999) and The Duel (2000) cinematographer-turned-director Andrew Lau (not to be confused with actor/singer Andy Lau) launched the wave of CGI swamped wu xia blockbusters that still dominate Chinese cinema. Kung Fu Monster finds Lau still going strong, only adding goofy comedy and a cuddly, Disney-esque digital critter to the mix. Most likely cashing in on the recent Asian mega-hit Monster Hunt (2015). Part straight wu xia romance, part genre parody, part creature feature, this wild primary-coloured monster romp remains likable. Even in those moments when the plot trips itself up due to Lau's convoluted storytelling. A flashback-riddled narrative jumps from character to character amidst an over-stuffed cast that leave ostensible lead Louis Koo with barely any screen-time. Casual viewers will be befuddled or annoyed yet the eccentric story-structure may prove less of problem for seasoned genre fans versed in the wu xia classics of Chu Yuan, particularly Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre (1978), or similar parodies like Kung Fu Cult Master (1993).
The film is more or less a series of good-natured skits, strung together with a wu xia plot parodying that oft-adapted genre landmark Dragon Gate Inn. While hit and miss the irreverent zany antics are occasionally very funny and evoke the glory days of Nineties New Wave epics with surreal detours and anime-influenced gags. Lau also uses playful editing tricks to keep things visually interesting: e.g. Cypress' gonzo, Sam Raimi-styled flashback origin story; the moon that comes alive to wink at the audience; Frigid and Ocean's thwarted karaoke love ballad. Amidst a cast of characters more enthusiastic than interesting, Zhou Dongyu stands out with the most engaging performance and story arc. Bella builds a bond with Lucky who shares his secret mystical kung fu moves helping her evolve into ultimately the noblest, most compassionate and faceted of the group. Boasting expressive facial features and an intriguing creature design, the titular skunk-hued, fang-faced, monkey-like Lucky proves a surprisingly endearing presence. Indeed the film has a pleasing anti-animal abuse message woven into an otherwise humourous story aimed primarily at a family audience rather than hardcore martial arts movie fanatics. That said most kids movies would not have their cuddly computer-animated kung fu animal hero call the bad guys "assholes." But that's Hong Kong cinema for you.
Hong Kong director and cinematographer responsible for some of the biggest hits in recent HK cinema. Born Wai Keung Lau, he photographed classics such as City on Fire, Curry and Pepper and Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express. As a director, Lau brought a flashy, commercial style to films like Naked Killer 2, Modern Romance and To Live and Die in Tsimshatsui, all produced by the prolific Wong Jing.