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Tim Chuma
Dec 19, 2009

Director: Chi-kin Kwok
Starring: Wen Zhang, Huang Bo, Shu Qi, Show Luo, Chrissie Chau

I had really been looking forward to this film as it seemed to appear out of nowhere after another project based on Journey to the West, the Monkey King was announced. Given the torturous nature of post production on Stephen Chow movies in the past few years I can understand why it took so long to finish.

Another thing which may disappoint some of his fans is that Stephen Chow is not in the film. Standing in for the role that he would have played in his earlier films is Wen Zhang as “the Unshaven Monk” Xuan Zang a demon hunter, but a pretty bad one as he only has a children’s book of nursery rhymes to fight the demons with and the people in the fishing village string him up not believing the actual demon is still in the water.

He acts like a massive dork for a lot of the movie and while he does some funny things, most of the scenes are stolen by demon hunter Bai Gu Jing (Shu Qi) in full tomboy mode with a dirty face and wiping her nose on her sleeve (probably). There is even one scene with her dancing with Sun Wukong that looks like it was in one of the outtakes they left in as it looks so natural.

She does make some funny faces during some of her scenes also, like when she is fighting with the pig demon.

While Bai Gui can hold her own, Xuan Zang despairs that he is not good enough. His master encourages him to keep going, saying that he is just missing something and will find it in his own time.

Cut to a deserted restaurant famous for its BBQ pork and two lovers fall afoul of the pig demon HK Long. I have no idea why he has a shiny face in his human form, BBQ pork glaze? Xuan Zang turns up and sees through the illusion straight away, trying to fight the demon he is told to go hide by Bai Gui until the last minute where she asks him to suck out the demon essence. The demon proves to be too strong for the both of them and they have to flee. Xuan’s master recommends he get the help of Sun Wukong (Huang Bo) imprisoned under “Five Fingers Mountain”, but warns that the Monkey King is very hard to deal with.

At this point it gets a bit strange with characters starting to pile on, including Bai Gui’s group of demon hunters, who try to trick Xuan into shacking up with their mistress and some hard core demon hunters including Prince Important, Almighty Foot and another hunter who is an expert in animal kung fu.

After another confrontation with the pig demon, Xuan gets sick of all the screwing around and decides to go see the Monkey King by himself. This sets up the last confrontation, but I will let you see that part for yourself.

While this is still a good movie and does have Stephen Chow behind it, I can’t help think how much better it would be if he was actually in it. Also it is missing most of his usual ensemble cast and especially the impact that Sammo Hung had on Kung Fu Hustle with the fight scene he worked on. I am going to skip over CJ7 as it was not really up to much.

Monkey is hardly in the movie as it is more a prequel and the title refers to conquering the demons within oneself. Monkey is really a demon in this movie and kills several people, as do the other demons who you are expected to follow as the protagonists in the next couple of movies (it is planned to be a trilogy).

I did enjoy the settings and the costumes and the big river village is used well in the opening scene with lots of acrobatics and characters attempting to see-saw the river demon onto land with dozens of people jumping into the air.

The music is used well and I recognised some of the pieces from Kung Fu Hustle, there are definite musical cues that are used for the battle scenes

I saw the movie in Mandarin, but it is also being screened in Cantonese in limited locations. It is hard to tell from the subtitles, but Stephen Chow’s earlier work is renowned for the heavy use of puns that never really came out through subtitles. As this was meant for a wider audience I am not sure this was a factor. Some people may miss it though as there was a whole series of historical legal comedies by Stephen Chow that was built around language.

It is also a lot different from A Chinese Odyssey 1 and 2 that Stephen Chow starred in and thankfully a lot easier to follow than those movies proved to be in parts. (Seriously, the time travel part from 1 makes bake to the Future 2's plot look simple, plus the main character runs into himself again in the second movie.)

I did see this movie in 3D, apart from a couple of scenes with the golden rings flying towards the screen and a mountain falling down onto the viewer I did not really notice it after a while. You are not really missing much watching it in 2D, I would have preferred to watch it that way as it is hard to read the subtitles and watch the movie if the images are coming out of the screen in front of them.

While it is still a good movie, there is no really need to rush out and go see it in the cinema unless you really want to. I would be happy to watch it on DVD at home again so I can see some of the fight scenes again and Shu Qi being silly.

Rating: 4/5

Tim Chuma fucked around with this message at Mar 4, 2013 around 09:09


An Ounce of Gold
Jul 13, 2001

Back in action!

I just saw this film and will put it up top as Chow's best. I may be a bit biased here though. When I was a kid a game came out for NES called Dragon Power which ended up being based on the cartoon Dragonball which led me to finding some old cartoons based directly on Journey to the West which I found fascinating.

Basically, I've always liked the story of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. This movie picks up smack dab in the middle of the Monkey King's story. You won't get a retelling of his 5-pillar lesson here. Instead you follow the story of the monk that the Monkey King will one day help guide as he finds enlightenment and how he "conquers" the titular demons.

If you've already seen God of Cookery, Kung Fu Hustle, or Shaolin Soccer (cj7 doesnt exist) then you know what kind of comedy and directing to expect from Chow (yes a person in a fat suit shows up- why do you ask?). So expect a few Chow typical disturbing characters, some ugly mofo background actors (is he a Coen fan?), and plently of puns (is he a Shakespeare fan?). The humor here seems a bit more balanced out than in his previous outings.

I'll keep it short and just add that this movie has the best version of the Monkey King that I've ever seen. Usually Sun Wukong is played up to the point where it's embarrassingly corny (see Jet Li in Forbidden Kingdom or the 2010 tv series). Sun Wukong is a badass; so it's about time to see him played up as one instead of as comedy relief.

If you enjoyed any of Chow's previous works then make sure you check this one out in theaters if you get a chance. I'll dock it a point just for a couple of bad green screen shots; even though some of the other shots looked amazing. It's really uneven in the CGI department (like Star Wars prequels bad in places). It didn't stop me from enjoying the movie and now I'm looking forward to their inevitable sequels.


Oct 30, 2003

"When I see someone tilting my tables, I shoot the Bastard. That's my policy!"

Grimey Drawer

Wow, this was easily Chow's worst film, and so little effort was put into it, that he didn't even bother starring in it.

Plot: Loosely follows Chinese legends, but seems to take as long as the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy. There is a lot of filler and character introduction, but they never seem to do anything with them. Here is a character, they can do this, you will see them for another 2 minutes. The pacing is slow throughout the entire film, and even the action scenes feel like a chore to watch.

Effects: There is a lot of pointless CGI filler that looks horrible for 1999, and really much worse than Shaolin Soccer which came out 12 years prior. None of the CGI monsters have any sort of weight, and instances where "physics are happening" show glaring errors with characters falling in places they obviously wouldn't given how they were thrown, etc. Most of this was just sperg stuff, but still sloppy.

Humour: Either this was Chow's worst attempt at it, or this wasn't a comedy. The only chuckle I got the entire film was the song to calm the first demon.

Cast: Like I said before, you don't really get to know much of the cast as they are introduced, and then you don't see them until near the end, for about 2 minutes each. It seemed that they could have dropped a lot of the demon hunters altogether and tried to focus more on the two main characters. I'm not too familiar with Zhang, but Shu Qi was totally wasted in this movie. She reminded me a lot of Ann Hathaway hosting the oscars with Franco. She was trying to bring a lot of energy to the debacle, but nobody else seemed interested in trying.

Acting: Given the material they had to work with, I would not really blame any of the actors for not giving their all. Compare this with Kung Fu Hustle, and you'll see what I mean.

Directing: Did Chow take tips from George Lucas? I'm picturing him directing from behind a TV, giving his actors and crew vague instructions and little input. He relied way too heavily on CGI, which is really bad given how "afternoon mini-series" this looked. Honestly, it was some of the WORST CGI I have seen outside of rip-off movies from South America.

Overall: Chow obviously decided to coast on his name and collect a fat cheque instead of trying to make a movie people would like. This was essentially Chinese "Jack and Jill".


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