Director: Stephen Chow
Starring: Wen Zhang, Shu Qi, Huang Bo, Show Luo
I’ve made no secret of my love for the Monkey King in the past; I have comics, games, toys, and seen multiple films and television adaptations. Whenever a new film comes out I wait with baited breath to sink my teeth into it. When Stephen Chow announced that he was directing a new take, was excited to see what one of the biggest stars in China would do with the material. When it was announced that he would not star, however, trepidation slowly began to set in. With the film finally available in an English friendly format, does the film do justice to the legend or is the story simply trapped beneath a rock?
As huge and destructive animal demons terrorize the countryside, demon hunters are abundant and a necessary occupation in these troubled times. Enter Chen (Wen Zhang) a hunter with a difficult time killing demons despite the danger they pose to him and others. Crossing paths with fellow hunter Duan (Shu Qi), Chen finds himself romantically pursued by the very capable and aggressive demon hunter. As he searches for a way to defeat a particularly destructive pig demon, he finds he must harness the power of the long imprisoned Monkey King, and maybe find his destiny along the path to spiritual enlightenment.
Directors Stephen Chow and Derek Kok take some wild liberties with the original source material providing a surprisingly fresh take on the oft adapted tale. Filled with many trademarked ‘Chow-isms’ fans of Stephen Chow’s 90’s films will find this film very familiar and very funny. Large setpieces and unique characters populate the film giving a wild life and great style to the picture. There is an energy that is missing in many previous adaptations that this film seems to exude in spades. The humor is solid and hits the mark quite often. It is very entertaining and much more engaging than I was expecting.
Wen Zhang does his best Chow impersonation and is very funny as Chen. He has great physical reactions and he is well suited to Chow’s brand of comedy. Shu Qi is very likable as Duan, the kick ass hunter and romantic interest. She handles her action well and even does a solid traditional dance in a nice character moment of the film. The rest of the cast does a good as well, providing funny moments that gave several laugh out loud instances during my viewing. The casting of Huang Bo also stands out in an unorthodox, but very entertaining choice for Monkey.
There are a number of visual effects shots utilized in the film; typically to showcase martial ability or render the stylized and intimidating demons. Conceived as a 3D film, I cannot attest to how that aspect fared, but the effects are very good and the choice to stay away from hyper realistic in favor of fantastical was very intelligent. Music is very good as well, utilizing a dramatic and appropriate score, a Shu Qi vocal, and traditional melodies; including a few Kung Fu Hustle fans will recognize, the film’s energy is easily maintained via the audio aspect.
In the end, Journey to the West: Conquering Demons is not a very faithful adaptation of the beloved book, but that is probably for the best. With literally dozens of super accurate interpretations available already, producing a unique and fun take was a huge benefit. With very funny and compelling performances by a talented cast, a terrific sense of humor, and some very cool fantasy-styled action, Journey to the West was a film with which I had an enormously good time.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Kung Fu Hustle, Forbidden City Cop, or Flirting Scholar