In August 2022, director Huang Jianming (Bobby the Hedgehog) took audiences on an adventure on the island of Kunlun wherein a banished doctor tried to make things right. It’s a colorful tale featuring a collection of characters that seem inspired by stories like the Chinese novel Fengshen Yanyi (The Investiture of the Gods) or The Legend of the White Snake that ultimately explores the importance of balance in all things. Even at 109 minutes, the film is a tad long in the tooth, its message clear well before the final climactic battle occurs. Even still, Huang’s Goodbye Monster (山海经之再见怪兽), now out on home video in the United States thanks to Well Go USA, possesses the potential to not only entertain families, but to create the opportunity to start a conversation with the youngest among us about the dark spirits that run the risk of consuming us.
At the Kunlun hospital, they treat all kinds of ailments, from physical to viral, but the one they struggle to mend is any affliction caused by the Dark Spirits. To date, anyone possessing the Dark Spirits can have them removed, but the individual is never quite fully healed and the energy can only be contained, not destroyed. Seeking to change things, Bai Ze (voiced by Liu Cong), a disciple to the hospital’s chief, focuses his energy on coming up with a final cure and rid any patient of the Dark Spirits. However, his latest attempt results in the complete destruction of the hospital and his banishment from practice. Seven years later, Bai Ze will be given a chance to make things right, but can he put aside his pride to do so?
If you’re even remotely familiar with the stories of White Snake or The Investiture of the Gods, there are humans, humanoids, and anthropomorphic beings. Such is the case here as Bai Ze appears as a lion-like being with ram’s horns who is in a relationship with the fabled nine-tailed fox, has patients who range from gods themselves to living bamboo. The design work is lovely, making the characters feel as native to their world as the characters within Light Chaser Animation Studios’s New Gods: Yang Jian (2022) or any of the DreamWorks Kung Fu Panda films do in their own. Because of this, audiences easily buy in to the wonder and magic that’s on display, just as much as they do the grounded inter-personal conflicts that are the true catalyst and power of the film. In a close-up of Bai Ze’s face, you really get the sense that we’re not just seeing fur, but something akin to scales, simmering in the light, suggestive of a more complex characterization in the design of Bai Ze than one might think from a distance. This is, by and large, a fantastic metaphor for the film itself which seems like a grand adventure/redemption story at a distance, but seeks to explore something more profound and universal.
From the start, Bai Ze is depicted as ego-centric, prone to making declarations of his skills and abilities, even when characters don’t ask. It’s a boastfulness that’s common in live action Hong Kong martial arts cinema from a protagonist that uses humor to deflect from his own personal shame (though the same can be said of American action cinema, too). Here, however, the script from Huang, Li Liang, Wuxiaoyu, and Zheng Xuejia, utilizes the pride of Bai Ze and the concept of the Dark Spirits to explore a blind spot that pervades not just the medical world, but society at large. Because of the fact that the film depicts the Dark Spirits as black and purple in color and almost wispy clouds when emanating off of someone but capable of forming into a giant stack that reaches out for people (as it does in the initial dethroning of Bai Ze), one might think of them as alive, acting with design and urgency. One might even think of recent Walt Disney Studios release Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) which incorporated a similar-looking energy who also possessed the capacity to turn those it touched to stone (a by-product here of not having the Dark Spirits within you dispelled). In Raya, the energy was more of a mindless force of nature given intention by the characters. In Goodbye Monster, I read it in a similar vein of how Judaism looks at the voice inside our heads that tells us bad things, either about ourselves or the way people look at us. In Judaism, we don’t have devils and demons like Catholicism, which point directly to someone’s morality or ethics. Rather, they are just other creations of G-d which exist in the world. This is something that appears to be shared with Buddhism as the various gods and demons do exist in a sort of balance. In this regard, the Dark Spirits, which cannot be cured (so say the medical experts who Bai Ze seeks to prove wrong), can be read as the part of ourselves external treatment cannot remove. Instead, it’s something that we must expel ourselves through connections with others, through strength of heart, through kindness to all (most importantly, ourselves), and by recognizing that being in possession of the Dark Spirits does not need to be a death sentence when we learn to love and be loved by our demons. Perhaps, even to take them salsa dancing so that we might know them and, through that, know ourselves. The point, which, yes, even the film takes its own time to do, is that if we don’t take the time to attend to our spirit, it doesn’t matter the strength of our body.
Even though this is a home release for a film originally released in Summer 2022, there’s nothing on the disc that invites audiences to learn anything about the film in any way, shape, or form. All viewers can do is watch a trailer for the film, explore a few previews for Well Go USA releases that are already available on home video (I recommend checking out both The Monkey King: Reborn and Jiang Ziya), and take advantage of the English Dub that is newly-available for this release.
In reviewing, I feel it’s important to see a story through all the way to its end. It doesn’t matter how rote the structure of the narrative is, how predictable the character arcs are, or how as-akin to a different tale it may be, watching it through to the end ensures that the complete message is observed. With Goodbye Monster, the ending reveals itself as one expects, yet with a surprising emotionality. There’s a delicacy in the unveiling, a tenderness that’s so different from the rest of the film’s less-tactful humor and kinetic intensity that one feels the journey worth it. Though there is a single F-bomb in the original Japanese language/English subtitle track that may give the film a PG-13 in the United States, Goodbye Monster is not only family-friendly, I’d encourage it as a way to talk about the stigmas related to mental health and why one shouldn’t avoid a cursed spirit any more than they would a broken arm or viral infection. If there’s a legacy to be had, let it be that.
Goodbye Monster Special Features:
- English Dub audio track
- Well Go USA Previews
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital September 5th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Well Go USA Goodbye Monster webpage.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.