Donnie Yen plays the legendary character Sun Wukong, AKA The Monkey King, in the new big budget adaptation of the classic 16th century novel, Journey to the West. After obtaining special superpowers, Sun Wukong goes on an adventure to India and battles duelling armies of gods and demons.

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Movie magic makes monkey tale swing.

In The Monkey King 3D, a massive sense of spectacle overwhelms a somewhat simplistic take on the mystical tale of Simian spirit Sun Wukong, but what an impressive display it proves to be in the hands of director Soi Cheang. With his reworking of the popular 16th century adventure novel, Cheang breaks away from the street-level crime action of Motorway (2012) and Accident (2009) to provide a soaring vision worthy of the story’s heaven-and-earth setting.

Since author Wu Cheng’en introduced Sun Wukong in Journey to the West (most recently filmed in 2013 by director Stephen Chow), manifestations of the iconic figure have been used in theatre, opera, traditional and modern art, and, of course, the beloved television series Monkey Magic. The tale is ingrained in generations of Chinese children who will not miss any of the familiar beats; the learned, mischievous monkey spirit finds new energy in the hands of Soi and his team of tech wizards.

Central to this latest incarnation is Donnie Yen, who gives life to our hero behind a thick layer of fur and fake skin and adopts a series of jittery twitches and jerky movements. It’s a wonderful performance, especially given Yen was required to master wire work and interact with immense production design (both physical and computer-generated).

Soi sets the tone with a mammoth opening battle sequence between the gods, led by Chow Yun-Fat’s regal Jade Emperor, and the rebellious animal demons, commanded by Aaron Kwok’s Bull Demon King. Defeated, the animals are spared but must live on the earthly plane amidst the jungles on Flaming Mountain.

Through some intricate mythology that is a little hard to follow, a monkey is born from the remnants of the goddess Nuwa (Zhang Ziin); while still encased in a mysterious egg, the wide-eyed monkey spirit bonds with a beautiful fox. In adult form, the creature takes the shape of Ruxue, the Silver Nine-Tailed Fox (Xia Zitong). The unlikely pair declares their never-ending love, unaware of the role they will play in the Bull Demon’s act of revenge against the Jade Emperor and his heavenly kingdom.

By the time Sun Wukong infiltrates the realm above the clouds, the central plot is frequently jettisoned in favour of monkey shenanigans. Most notable amongst these is the release of the Emperor’s prized dragon-horses, who gallop majestically through the kingdom, and Sun Wukong’s battle with the three-eyed Head of Heavenly Security, the deceitful Erlangshen (Peter Ho). Some may find the multi-layered special effects sequences too much of a good thing, but unlike the similar mayhem of Michael Bay’s Transformer films, there is a comforting geography to the action.

The Monkey King is exactly the type of family blockbuster that millions of holidaying mainlanders can enjoy over the Chinese New Year period. The epic fantasy has paid off for very patient investors, too, who first announced the project in 2010. Factoring in 3D and IMAX ticket prices, The Monkey King 3D achieved the honour of global box office leader in its first three days of release, taking in a whopping US$46 million across seven territories.

 

Watch 'The Monkey King'

Thursday 30 April, 12:00PM on SBS VICELAND (streaming after broadcast at 12:00pm)

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Hong Kong, 2014
Genre: Family, Adventure, Action
Language: Mandarin, Cantonese
Director: Soi Cheang
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Donnie Yen, Aaron Kwok, Joe Chen
What's it about?
Donnie Yen plays the legendary character Sun Wukong, AKA The Monkey King, in the new big budget adaptation of the classic 16th century novel, Journey to the West. After obtaining special superpowers, Sun Wukong goes on an adventure to India and battles duelling armies of gods and demons.

Details

M
2 hours

Genres