The Monkey King 2 – a review of sorts

I went along to watch the Monkey King 2 over the weekend and let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t the most amazing movie in the world, but it was exactly what I was hoping it would be – an enjoyable story based on Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, and considerably better than the first one.

Everything was a step up, from the overall characters and story, the costumes, sets, special effects and funnily enough – the translation. The English subtitles on the first one were horrendous, almost as if they were included as a last minute after-thought. This time round I noticed only a few mistakes and odd sentences, but it was perfectly understandable.

I don’t know what it is about the whole Journey to the West mythology but it’s a series that I’ve connected with ever since I was young and enjoyed the Japanese TV series, Monkey Magic. Sun Wukong has always been one of my favourite story characters and I really can’t put a finger on why. He’s just so charismatic in his naughtiness, and I always laugh on the inside when someone inevitably curses him with, “You evil monkey!!!”

This movie perfectly captured everything I love about Wukong, and I think Aaron Kwok (who interestingly enough played the antagonist Bull Demon King in the first movie) did a much better job that Donnie Yen at portraying this impressible primate.

The first movie was just a confusing combination of martial arts and this really goofy fable’esque story beneath. The second was much closer to the story I read by Cheng’en and it’s settings (particularly Cloud Kingdom) far more reminiscent of the Silk Road vibe I always took from the story.

The first movie to its credit, was predominantly set in the kingdom of heaven – and while let down by its bodgy, low quality special effects (that actually looked pixelated a lot of the time) – did a decent enough job of depicting a quite tricky setting.

But I much preferred this one. I thought Wukong’s relationship with Tripitaka was well handled, and Wukong was far more introspective and thoughtful to his own actions, showing his path towards wisdom as opposed to the seriously arrogant and naughty Wukong who went all kinds of mental in heaven first time round.

I particularly liked the way Aaron Kwok portrayed Wukong. He never stood completely straight, he’d effortlessly slink from standing to a sort of cruisy slouch, and all the fx-boosted ‘Monkey Moves’ in between – special shout-out to the masterful handling of Wukong’s distinctive staff – this was handled so well that it was almost a character unto itself.

If there’s one thing I really enjoy about wuxia/martial arts movies out of China it’s that there’s really no tilting towards male or female prominence. The women are every bit as badass as the men and the same held true with Gong Li’s White Bone Demon – a superbly cool villainess who was every bit as engaging as Wukong. Lesser mention to Baijie (Pigsy) & Wuking (Sandy) who were fun but really paled in comparison to the vibrant big brother Wukong.

The other funny thing about this movie was despite the full cinema (in Melbourne), I was literally the only non-Asian in the cinema. I had strikingly familiar feelings of being THE minority, a feeling I haven’t experienced since living in China, where my every move was scrutinized by every person present in a 100 metre radius. I could feel their eyes on me as I was walking out. What’s this white guy doing in our Chinese movie? Did he like our movie from China? Haha – why yes, yes I did!

Now I’m hoping for a 3rd follow-on to this, plus also a new Journey to the West movie from Stephen Chow, who set up a follow-on after his brilliant Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. Now there was a ridiculously different Sun Wukong again, but so, so good!

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