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[Review]: The New Monkey King Film
By Feb 29, 2016 Arts
Journey To The West has already been adapted into over 100 movies and TV shows, and it's back in theaters for one more in Pou-Soi Cheang's sequel to The Monkey King (2014). The first film featured a high-pitched, mentally challenged Sun Wukong played by Donnie Yen, and CGI graphics that looked like they were made by rubbing rocks together. It also cost 500 million RMB to make.

This year, the big budget and [incomprehensibly] the director are back with Monkey King 2, a movie with Chinese and English subtitles that looks like someone actually paid the special effects team and is about a 54,000km somersault better than the first one. But is it enough?



Monkey King 2 starts 500 years after the first film left off. Wukong (played by Aaron Kwok) has been imprisoned under Buddha's Five Elements Mountain for half a millennium after rebelling against heaven and the Jade Emperor (the events of the first film). Tangseng (Feng Shaofeng) releases him and Wukong agrees to safeguarding Tangseng as he journeys to retrieve sacred scriptures from Buddha. Zhu Bajie (Xiao Shenyang) and Shaseng (Him Law) quickly join the team thereafter. From there, the film retells the one of the most well known episodes of Journey to the West: the story of of the shapeshifting demon Baigujing.

Kwok's performance as Monkey King is lively rendition of the cunning, overpowered badass of the legends. Gong Li's Baigujing is cold, evil, and deeply resents humanity, but you root for her anyway. And Feng's Tangseng is the bright-eyed pure-hearted optimist that opens opportunities for several comedic moments with his demon disciples. Most of these roles get successful character arcs -- Zhu Ba Jie, for example, overcomes his cowardice -- but some feel rushed at the end.

Aside from cast performances, however, other areas of the film fared poorly. There was too much focus on special effects and action sequences that, while high quality, often felt unnecessary. At one point, the team fights the kind of undead skeletons one might find in bad Western horror movies. It seemed like the director didn't know how to rectify the problem of a near-invincible main character and his only solution was to drag on the fight scenes.

Many ideas and relationships presented in the story went undeveloped, and the final resolution lacked weight due to poor pacing. In many ways, Monkey King 2 felt like a missed opportunity. Compared to its predecessor, it's a vastly superior Journey To The West film, but on its own, it's just another mediocre retelling that fails to add anything new beyond modern special effects. So unless you want to see Hong Kong's top of the line CGI capabilities or if you're a fan of one of the actors in the star-studded cast, this isn't worth a ticket.

Monkey King 2 set box office records with 117 million dollars over the Chinese New Year holiday. You can catch the trailer on Letv and a trailer of the first film here. Monkey King 2 is currently playing with English and Chinese subtitles in major theaters.

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