Writer: Casey ChongWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
“A Chinese Odyssey” and “Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons”.
From novels, comics, video games, TV series to movies, Wu Cheng'en's classical novel "Journey To The West" has certainly been told over and over again in different kind of media adaptations. Last year itself we already have Stephen Chow's "Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons", and this year, "The Monkey King" has finally seen the light of its day after nearly four years of production.
"The Monkey King" begins with a titanic battle between god (led by Chow Yun-Fat's Jade Emperor) and demon (led by Aaron Kwok's Bull Demon King), which ends up causing a serious damage on the Heavenly Palace. Bull Demon King lost the battle and about to be severely punished but Princess Iron Fan (Joe Chen), daughter of Jade Emperor, begs her father to spare him a life since she loves Bull Demon King very much. So Jade Emperor banished both of them to the Fire Mountain and forbids them to enter Heavenly Palace ever again. Meanwhile, a monkey spirit is born out from Princess Nuwa's (Zhang Zilin) magic boulders and subsequently grows up as a mischievous adult. Soon he is trained under Master Puti (Tian Hai Yi) and names him as Sun Wukong. After Wukong accomplished his master's teaching, he returns to the Mountain of Flowers and Fruits where he originally belongs and declares himself as Handsome Monkey King. Trouble comes when Bull Demon King recognizes Wukong's incredible power and uses him to penetrate into the Heavenly Palace.
When "The Monkey King" teaser trailer was first debuted last year, this reviewer was highly doubtful about the quality of the movie. Even many trailers later, "The Monkey King" looks destined to be a huge fiasco. But upon finally watching it (and with low expectations), this reviewer is surprised by the overall outcome of "The Monkey King". It certainly is far from the best adaptation ever seen from the "Journey To The West" source material, but director Soi Cheang does a good job turning "The Monkey King" into a hugely entertaining CGI-heavy fantasy.
Yes, the special effects looked average at best (imagine those video game graphics from either PS or PS2, and you'll get the idea how they look like) and some of them even looks like a rushed job, but somehow Cheang and his effects team manages to overcome the weakness with their overall imaginative effort. The effects-laden battles are reasonably epic in scope, and they are surprisingly fun to watch for, thanks to the impressive action choreography by Donnie Yen himself.
Speaking of Donnie Yen, he definitely does a tremendous job both on-screen and off-screen. Here, he successfully captures the playful spirit of Sun Wukong while proves to be such an agile fighter as usual, especially when he uses his golden staff. The rest of the supporting actors doesn't fare as good as he does, with Aaron Kwok's villainous turn as Bull Demon King is sadly underwritten while the appearances of Kelly Chen as Guanyin and Gigi Leung as Chang'E are nothing more than glorious cameos. At least Peter Ho's Erlangshen and Chow Yun-Fat's Jade Emperor deserve some minor praises for their respective performances.
Szeto Kam Yuen's and Edmond Wong's screenplay may have some weak spots here and there, but their overall storyline manages to strike a fair balance of action, comedy, romance and fantastical elements. Lastly, special kudos must goes to Christopher Young for successfully delivering majestic score that blends well with the epic grandeur of the movie.
Uneven special effects and some other flaws aside, "The Monkey King" is a satisfying effort worth watching for this Chinese New Year.Cinema Online, 28 January 2014