Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back – a long overdue review.

Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West – Conquering the Demons was hands down one of the best takes on the classic Journey to the West story that I’ve ever seen. It was the perfect blend of Stephen Chow originality, infused with wonderful (and often piss funny) character moments that is Chow’s hallmark. I am particularly fond of the way Chow casts characters (often re-occurring through his various movies) who are just everyday folk. Key characters could literally have been plucked from a street food vendor and thrust onto the screen. When I saw that number two was not being directed by Chow and instead Tsui Hark (most notable for his action movies) I was concerned – but less so realizing Stephen Chow was on as producer. But this second movie while reasonable, fell way short of what made the first movie so good.

The movie released during Chinese New Year and came as a surprise for me as I hadn’t realized it was coming out so sudden. Once again I went along solo, and once again I was the only non-Asian in the cinema. It’s definitely a novelty I think to have that feeling of being in the minority race – but in your home town!

The movie itself was an entirely new cast, none of which I was familiar with. The only castings that really mattered to me were that of the Tang Monk and Sun Wukong – the nefarious monkey king. Sadly, both of these were inferior to the first movie. I read that Kris Wu who plays the Tang monk was a well known singer/performer and I get the feeling he’s been cast more for that reason than his ability to play the role. Whereas Wukong’s Kenny Lin I have only seen once before in the Young Detective Dee movie – and he’s not really someone known to me. Both Pigsy and Sandy were forgettable – Sandy in particular spending the majority of the movie in CGI fish form which was bizarre to say the least.

I will say now that the movie was not terrible – far from it. I enjoyed some of the character interplays – particularly between Tang and Wukong – but at the same time, there was this serious bromance going on between them which was just didn’t feel right. I felt like the Monkey King 2 did a much better job of exploring this often tenuous relationship.

The story itself like Pigsy and Sandy – was forgettable and not worth relating. If anything, the movie was similar to the book Monkey by Wu Ch’eng-En. This story followed the Monkey King from birth to his infamous havoc in heaven, right the way through to accompanying the monk to India to retrieve the scriptures. Along the way there were several side-adventures where the group would solve a problem by killing a local demon – and this movie felt like one of those side adventures. But unlike the book which was a complete tale – the movie felt like it had little purpose and effectively left off where it began, in the middle of a journey. This is all well and good for those familiar with the story, but to anyone else it would seem pointless.

And worse, these side adventures bordered on meh. They had several funny moments in which Stephen Chow’s comedy could be felt, but the effects were the quality of a 90’s video game, culminating in an epic battle with clone buddhas’s that just couldn’t match the epic conclusion of the first movie where the real Buddha intervened in a most awesome way.

Would I recommend the movie? Only to fans of the Journey to the West story but to all others – go watch the Monkey King 2 instead, a surprisingly good movie.

The real shame here is the cast from the first movie were awesome. As I said earlier, they were far from your ordinary choices, particularly Bo Huang whose Monkey King absolutely nailed it (although the animated monkey version was perhaps a tad too feral). But the path the monk took, supported by the awesome Qi Shu – well I’m disappointed. Regardless, I still have my fingers crossed there is a third and it’s once again helmed by Stephen Chow.

2.5 holy scriptures

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