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Chinese-Made 'Monster Hunt' Dominates Theaters During Hollywood Blackout

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now to the box office in China, where the star this summer is a baby monster, a really cute one named Huba - think Pillsbury Doughboy with this tuft of green hair. He's one of the stars of the Chinese blockbuster "Monster Hunt," a movie that has hauled in more than $330 million, more than any other film - Chinese or foreign - except for "Furious 7." To explain "Monster Hunt's" surprise success, we go to Shanghai and NPR's Frank Langfitt.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Director Raman Hui was dreading the premiere of his film this summer.

RAMAN HUI: Actually, before the movie opens, I was a little bit, like, oh, I wish we have another month so I don't have to face the opening day.

LANGFITT: After all, "Monster Hunt" had had problems. Hui had to reshoot it at great expense after his male lead was busted for smoking pot. The hybrid style - a comedy-adventure-fantasy - didn't neatly fit traditional movie genres here, and critics predicted the box office was going to be mediocre.

HUI: I guess when the movie opened, the word of mouth spread really fast.

LANGFITT: And "Monster Hunt" blew up. Hui attributes the movie's success to a change in Chinese audiences. Having been exposed to global entertainment, moviegoers here are more interested in new genres beyond mainland standards such as martial arts and historical epics that feel like school lessons.

HUI: I think the audiences are getting younger, and they are more open-minded. And I guess they've been watching a lot of other stuff other than history.

LANGFITT: Audiences also flocked to "Monster Hunt" because of the movie's high-level CGI, which Hui honed while working in Hollywood on jobs such as co-director of "Shrek 3." Leaving a matinee last week, Zha Lingi, a 21-year-old college student, praised the movie's narrative and high-tech sheen.

ZHA LINGI: (Foreign language spoken).

LANGFITT: "The baby monster is very cute, very lovely. And the end of the story is rather touching," Zha says. "The special effects were very well done; they're dazzling. I think this one is better than American animated films."

ROB CAIN: I'm Rob Cain. I'm a film producer and also a consultant to entertainment companies doing business in China.

LANGFITT: Cain says "Monster Hunt" also did well because it ran during a government-imposed blackout period when foreign films are mostly banned from Chinese theaters. The blackout not only protects domestic movies, but also limits the cultural influence of Hollywood. Cain explains.

CAIN: They want Chinese media to be Chinese and not dominated by big foreign media companies, especially the American studios.

LANGFITT: "Monster Hunt" is still in theaters, but competition is on the way. Hollywood will return to China in the coming weeks with the latest installments in the "Terminator" and "Mission Impossible" franchises. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.