A legendary classic mythology based on the famous 'four’, Xuan Zang, Sun Wukong (widely known as 'Monkey King’), Pig demon and Water demon. The story tells of how Xuan Zang tames his three disciples and the four embark on a journey to the west to repent for their sins and in search of the Buddhist Sutra and enlightenment. They are however faced with numerous challenges with fighting all kinds of demons & temptations.
Outlandish and capricious, Journey to the West is Stephen Chow’s return to the ancient Monkey King tales formally collected by Wu Cheng-en’s in the 16th Century. Before Chow found international success with Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Kung Fu Hustle (2004), he starred as the trickster figure in Jeff Lau’s 1995 two-part landmark comedy fantasy A Chinese Odyssey. While that venture was full of surprises, in this outing the story runs rampant. Comical, then grotesque; at times touching and romantic, and even occasionally gory, Journey to the West is not exactly consistent. But Chow doesn’t care about consistency. He just keeps every section in his first, non-starring, directing effort as entertaining as he can regardless of the scenes around it. It’s fun – but hang on to your hat, because it’s a hell of a ride.
it’s a hell of a ride
The film opens in a seaside village, where a fisherman playfully warns his five-year-old daughter of water-dwelling demons. One parental practical joke later, a mighty gilled beast bounds in and gobbles the father, other villagers and disturbingly, the young girl, in unsentimental fashion. At the funeral, an awkward, shabby looking priest Xuan Zang (Wen Zhang) offers to help catch the gilled demon. The villagers doubt the spiritual prowess of this bumbler, but have no choice when the demon fish returns to menace a baby in a floating wicker basket. It’s a funny scene but permeated with darkness, because this wacky comedy has already made the threat that sustains the most gruesome horror films: Anybody can die at any time.
Xuan Zang reverts the demon fish back to its original human form by singing a Chinese nursery rhyme as a Buddhist exorcism. A ravishing interloper, Miss Duan (Shu Qi), trumps the hapless monk by reducing the now-helpless creature to ashes with her magic rings and asking the villagers to shower her with money. Disturbed by the young girl’s death and humbled by Duan’s taunts about his good-two-shoes techniques for conquering demons, Xuan’s Master sends him to look for enlightenment at Five Finger Mountain. En route, Xuan Zang and Shu are reunited at an oddball pork eatery that serves more than pig flesh and together they fight a martial arts battle that impressively employs CGI and fast-motion footage. Though he’s not much help when it comes to fighting wild boars or other magical creatures, Duan gradually begins to find the naïve priest attractive. The romance and the pilgrimage progress from there – but never predictably.
Expertly directed (with co-director by Derek Kwok), the fight scenes are dynamic, and the comedy perfectly executed. However, it’s the acting that holds it all together. Wen manages to keep an endearing purity on his face throughout and makes it plausible that Taiwanese actress Shu Qi – one of Chinese cinema’s sexiest women – is able to fall for such an incompetent hero. Several strong cameos – notably Huang Bo as the Monkey King in the film’s final third – keep the film stimulating.
A tip for Chinese speakers: the exhibitors’ website reveals which cinemas around your city play the Cantonese or Mandarin-dubbed versions.