Hanson and the Beast
aka 二代妖精 aka Er Dai Yao Qing
Written by Xiao Yang and Guo Yiwen
Directed by Xiao Yang
A tale as old as time in Chinese cinema is humans and fairies hooking up, and Hanson and the Beast is the latest incarnation of that situation. To try to switch things up, Hanson throws in a bunch of economic anxiety and racial oppression being used as a tool of power by a corrupt official. The result is a big budget effects film that seems like it has a lot to say, even as there is an obvious point where they ran out of money and the themes are mostly simplistic when looked at with any depth. That being said, Hanson and the Beast manages to be enjoyable in a sweet way and I ended up coming out of it liking it a lot more than I thought I would. Somehow this cynical soul is growing soft as he hits middle age. Must be popcorn poisoning or something!
Hanson Yuan Shuai (Feng Shaofeng) is a broke zookeeper (we learn he was bamboozled out of money trying to get a film financed and the resulting drama caused his dad to have a mental breakdown) trying to get rich quick through an arranged relationship deal. He has a gang of tryhard Triads trying to shake him down for the $2 million he owes them, and to top it all off, now a crazy woman is stalking him. Except she’s not crazy, she’s just weird, and believes she is a fox that he saved as a child from some bullies. Of course she actually is, otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie! She’s Bai Xianchu (Liu Yifei – The Forbidden Kingdom, The Four) and her reveal as a fox fairy causes Yuan Shuai to freak out and run down the road screaming in his underwear.
It also attracts the attention of the Bureau of Transfiguration, which is an elite group that protects the existence of animal fairy spirits (here called Yaojing and later revealed to be the descendants of aliens who crashed on Earth millions of years ago!) The Bureau erase the minds of human witnesses (except Hanson) and takes Bai back to their world. Which she promptly escapes from again the next day and meets up with Hanson again. By now he’s freaking out as he doesn’t know why everyone else seems to have forgotten the events of yesterday and his money problems are getting worse as his schemes keep getting derailed. Bai runs off in a huff, but later we learn she was out collecting scraps to help with his debt. She then wanders into a hostess club where she starts doing things for tips from the rich clients that upsets Yuan (this is a family film, so it’s basically singing and showing her legs off), but the Bureau busts in again.
The Bureau of Transfiguration is a fun squad lead by Hong, who seems without gender and is constantly playing music on speaker for his squad to make dramatic entrances with. The entire squad are animal spirits in human form, but their coolness is betrayed by the leader of the Yaojing, the vile Commissioner Yun Zhonghe, who rules with an iron fist and with the power of propaganda. He wants the Yaojing to fear the humans so they will return to the spirit world and be more under his control, and isn’t above manufacturing crises or murdering rebel Yaojing to do it. Bai is slightly protected that as an arctic fox she’s very rare, so he can’t just kill her off. But he can use her for his own ends, and attempt to bribe Hanson with the money he needs by doing so (also disgusing exactly what he’s doing)
By then Yuan has grown fond enough of Bai to not want to betray her, but problems and hijinks ensue. Hanson and the Beast is best when it is just going into full bore worldbuilding insanity. A giant CGI drunk fox running around the city inadvertently smashing things while special agents try to clean up the mess, the Bureau of Transfiguration glamming it out, Commissioner Yun turning people into full animals as punishment, random paintings on the wall of animal people who were obviously important Yaojing. Bai’s friend is a famous movie star who just happens to be starring in a film where the animal spirits are having a big battle, which allows Hanson and Bai to hid out from the pursuing Yun and goons without worrying about stray ears. This scene features a lot of extras running around in costume, and is later aped in the finale as actual Yaojing are running amok, but at this point they bit off more than they could chew in the effects and they basically use the same type of cheap masks. It’s weird because up to that point there were plenty of effects and things just shift. I actually like the film more because they seemed like they went ahead and tried to pull off the impossible with no funds. It’s that rare kind of heart a lot of films don’t have.
Outside of the heart, Hanson takes a bit of getting used to with his money-seeking until you learn the full backstory, and Bai seems pretty one-note as obsessed with Hanson, barely having any personality of her own beyond being considered a troublemaker. Her childhood friend who is the head of the Bureau is much more developed as someone who is trying to do right under a corrupt system and have fun and look good while doing so. Supporting characters like that are just very interesting, and luckily they are heavily featured in the last third of the film. Hanson and the Beast might be just another Chinese effects film that slips through the cracks, but it has enough moments of fun that if these kinds of films tickle your fancy, you should definitely check it out given the chance!
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