The new Monkey King movie was without doubt one of my most anticipated new releases of recent years. I would periodically hit up Google, hoping for little tidbits of information, absolutely hanging out for its trailers to finally appear. Being a Chinese movie, it had little to no media coverage in the online western world, although when it did finally show up, it didn’t look too bad at all. Not amazing – but not too bad.
And then suddenly it was Chinese New Year 2014 and the movie was out. Having read several less than favourable reviews – particularly this one from Twitchfilm, I was suddenly almost certain it would be terrible, but anything to date based on Journey to the West has been somewhat low budget, so my expectations for high production quality and a generally excellent movie – well they weren’t exactly there.
I will point out that Stephen Chow’s recently released Journey to the West: Conquering the Demon’s, was an amazing take on the story. It was hilariously refreshing, further cementing Stephen Chow as one of my favourite Asian movie directors. If you haven’t seen that, do yourself a favour and go see it as soon as possible. Anyhow, back to The Monkey King 3D – was it any good?
Without beating around the bush, the answer is basically no. It wasn’t a good movie. I enjoyed it, but it was really quite average. In fact, on that particular hot day, I went and watched the movie by myself, using the cinema as a way of escaping the heat. 95% of the audience was Chinese, and I had the painful experience of sitting by two fellow ‘whities’ who huffed and puffed and sighed dramatically all movie – obviously hating it. But come on guys, you’re adults, if you’re not enjoying it, leave.
The movie follows Sun Wukong’s (Donnie Yen) early years, where he grows from the cheeky leader of the Mountain of Flower and Fruit’s monkey population, to the super-powerful, and equally as arrogant, Great Sage Equal of Heaven.
The movie – unlike the book before it – has the Bull Demon King (Aaron Kwok) using Monkey’s increasing power and arrogance as a means of striking back at the Jade Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) who has just smacked him down and banned him to Fire Mountain. After several run-ins with southern heaven gate guard Erlandshen (Peter Ho) and seeking vengeance for the death of his followers…seemingly by the hand of the Jade Emperor, Monkey becomes demonic in his fury and seeks to destroy all of heaven.
Now I won’t profess to be an expert on the subject matter, but I have read the translation of Journey to the West (although it was a few years ago now). The movie seemed to completely misunderstand the original story – which really detailed the point that the nature of Monkey is irrepressible. Although Sun Wukong meant well, and wanted to look after his followers who he loved very much – his gradual increasing in power to that which rivalled that of heaven only fed his arrogance, and it was only much later on, when contained by his golden headband and serving Tripitaka did that naughty monkey finally learn humility.
The movie just didn’t capture this early rise in power. It briefly skimmed over it, had Monkey suddenly powerful (none of his failings under Master Puti) – and running around heaven like a clueless fool. I quite liked how the unrecognisable Donnie Yen played the character (obviously inspired by the various Chinese TV series), but the motivations were absolutely lacking.
As I said, I had low expectations for the production values, which is lucky as the quality of special fx ranged from good to absolutely terrible. Special mention goes to the Fox spirit’s followers – all wearing animal costumes that looked absolutely horrendously low budget. The panda in particular….O.M.G.
Funnily enough, one thing I did enjoy was Monkey’s threatening of the Sea Dragon King – forcing him to give up his weapons, armour and Monkey’s famous staff. This scene was not too bad, and the underwater creatures – servants such as crabs, turtles etc, who I actually would have thought would have been the goofiest, were not too bad!
All in all – the movie just really lacked from the story point of view. Had the original story been more accurately followed, had there been more attention to the actual development of Sun Wukong’s character and less emphasis on pointless action sequences, then this could have been a much better movie. But as it stands, it was a disappointment.
The confused script can be summed up easily by the last scene, where Buddha traps Monkey beneath Five Finger Mountain for 500 years to make up for the havoc he’s caused in heaven – except there’s no entrapment, Monkey willingly accepts his punishment. You don’t get it much more wrong than that.