As stated before, Stephen Chow, although a fucking comedic genius at times, often misses the mark when he tries to go too wacky. So when I heard he was making a movie based on the whole "Journey to the West" tale that is famous the world over I was a little concerned. Well, what made me REALLY concerned is that Stephen Chow already made a two-movie tale about the whole Monkey King saga back in the 90s, and here he was going at it again. What the kung-fu fuck was he thinking?
Well, apparently he was thinking "updated special effects" first and foremost. This movie looks expensive for an Asian flick (meaning it has some great CGI going on in it, but it still looks about 10 years behind big Hollywood productions), and it looks so much richer than Chow's original loose take on the Monkey King story (as seen in the1995 flicks A Chinese Odyssey Part One: Pandora's Box and Part Two: Cinderella), but was it really necessary?
The answer to that question is YES. Stephen Chow has learned a metric fuck-ton since he was involved in that two parter Odyssey series, and in 2013's Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (which he produces, directs, wrote the screenplay for, and did the action choreography for) he brings his "A" game. This is a movie by the same guy who did Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. This is not the same guy who went along with the whole plot of Sixty Million Dollar Man for an easy paycheck. This Stephen Chow knows story beats, the perfect time for action, comedy, or heart-felt drama, and he knows how to tie everything up in the end into a beautiful-wrapped package of kung-fu bad-assery and surprise. I fucking love THIS Stephen Chow and only wished he made more movies more frequently.
But I digress.
So, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is another retelling of the whole Journey to the West story about a Chinese Buddhist monk who travels to India in order to retrieve a bunch of sacred texts. This monk has a handful of powerful companions who help him to vanquish a bunch of dill-weed demons and monsters along the way. One companion is the super mega powerful Monkey King, one is pig demon, another a cursed river creature, and another a dragon. This movie is about how that monk, one Xuanzang, came to command such a motley menagerie of misfits.
We start things off with a cursed demon attacking a small village on a river. Many villagers are smacked around or eaten before a Taoist priest appears and uses the Holy Hand-grenade of Antioch to defeat a large manta ray. The villagers all praise the priest who takes a ton of the poor people's money as a reward, but before he can leave a Buddhist monk appears and informs them that the giant manta ray was just a peaceful creature passing by, and not the man eating monster they all feared, and that the real demon is still loose in the river. The villagers don't like his answer though and tie the monk up, but before they can do anything more to him the demon returns and eats a few more people before everybody can team up with the monk and stop the beast by pretty much beaching the giant creature, which forces it to turn into a human form.
The monk tries to use his book of 300 nursery rhymes to calm the demon's anger, but the cursed fish-man flips his shit and tries to kill the poor monk and is only stopped by the intervention of a sexy demon-slayer woman who goes by the name of Duan. Duan uses her magic to turn the fish-man-thing into a small puppet because why not.
Anyway, the monk and Duan meet up a few more times during their own separate missions (the monk to use his humanist ways to find the good in demons and turn them away from anger and hatred and thus redeem their souls, and Duan who finds she has a girly hard-on for the monk and wants to bed him), and a pig-demon, several other human mystical bounty hunters, and of course the main monkey himself, Sun Wukong the Monkey King, all make their appearances and lead to a pretty goddamn touching finale where lots of big shit is at stake, including the monk's book of nursery rhymes!
JttW:CtD is an amazing piece. It's perhaps a bit too violent for younger kids (think of the maiming and killing going on in Kung Fu Hustle), but other than that I'd be willing to bet that anybody who sees this flick (who isn't against some very silly moments) will love the ever-loving monkey-piss out of it. And that guy who plays the main monk character, he does a fantastic spot-the-fuck-on impression of Stephen Chow himself! There was honestly one time during this movie that I thought it truly WAS Chow under some incredible age-defying makeup. Cupcake laughed at me for it saying "there is no way in Hell that is a 52 year-old man right there," but the actor just nailed it.
The girl who played Duan was great too. She played the sexy one in the So Close movie that came out a while ago. And the rest of the cast is just so perfect too. The pig demon dude, the Monkey King, the albino bounty hunter, and the bounty hunting dancing girl (the only way I can describe her without any real spoilers) were all made for their roles. Honestly, looking back on it I can't think of anything (other than some shoddy Asian CGI work) that I would change about this movie. I loved the story, the characters, the actors, and the feels. Goddammit, Chow! Just crank more works out quicker than George RR Martin writes books! That's all I fucking ask.
Oh, and if any of this story sounds familiar that's because this uber-famous tale has been told before hundreds, if not thousands of times in books, movies, and comics. Dragon Ball? Originally based on the whole Monkey King story with Son Goku and his magic staff and riding-cloud playing the part of Sun Wukong. The Forbidden Kingdom, starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan? Oh yeah, remember that one? Jet played the goddamn Monkey King in it, and if I remember correctly Jackie was the main monk, Xuanzang. That's the "Journey to the West" as well. There are webpages dedicated to all the remakes, retellings, and makeovers to this story over the years... more retellings than there are of stories of Dracula. Yeah. Crazy, huh? Crazy like a goddamn Monkey King!
While there is no Jet Li or Jackie Chan in this movie featuring martial arts and giant monsters, I still say it is enjoyable enough.
.....Really? You want more? That wasn't stereotypical enough for you? How about I ask for more rice and chopsticks in my chop-socky movies, huh? Or how about I say that they're not good unless there's more panty shots in them, or more wire-fu going on in every last action scene.
We're done here.