Review: Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons (2013)
Posted by Bad Panda on June 07, 2013 (0 Comments)
The King of Comedy Returns!
Stephen Chow's new film is finally on release! After becoming a virtual recluse, having made only three movies in the 21st century (not counting his cameo appearance in "The Founding of the Republic", or his voice in the CJ7 cartoon), he is back for number four! He has taking more and more of a backseat role as his screen time in his movies since Shaolin Soccer has been ever-diminishing, now to the point that he doesn't even appear in The Journey West. Placing all his efforts behind the camera has paid off though because, although this film bares the trademark of a Stephen Chow movie, he is not really missed in fron of the camera. Chow could very easily have played the main protagonist, Xuan Zang, but in utilising Wen Zhang, he has created a younger, more innocent and optimistic character.
The plot basically acts as a prequel to "The Journey West" story, which is renowned throughot the world in one guise or another. The original novel itself is one of the four great novels in China (along with The Water Margin, Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dream of the Red Chamber). Xuan Zang is a young and inexperienced buddhist demon-hunter who wanders around trying, unsuccessfully, to capture demons. He chances upon a riverside village (an incredibly lavish set) that is terrorised by a river demon, only to be pummelled at the end after trying to pacify the demon by singing from a book of "300 Nursey Rhymes" before being saved by Miss Duan, a "real" demon-hunter. The second act centres around capturing a powerful pig demon, and after that, a fateful trip to locate the Monkey King, Sun Wukong.
Chow has managed to weave together a film that is not only very funny, but also at times has moments of high drama. There are a plethora of Chow's trademark oddball characters, all very effective comedy fodder. It is unfortunate that, along with many other Stephen Chow movies, the verbal jousting or "mo lei tou" comedy in Cantonese being largely colloquial, gets lost in translation. It completely loses its meaning in English. However, there is still ample content in here to be appreciated by western audiences (for example, what on earth is a manta ray doing in a river, but it is this kind of absurdity that makes it funny). The CGI is reasonably well executed and complements the action. What is important is that it doesn't detract from the movie, and it doesn't.
The roles are well-cast, each playing their part to perfection. The standouts are Shu Qi, who doesn't often get to be so brash and violent, and Huang Bo has a delightful turn as the Monkey King, playing him to great comedy effect and then with great malevolence. Wen Zhang plays a "young Stephen Chow" to good effect too. What doesn't play so well is the romanticisation of the relationship between Xuan Zang and Miss Duan, as throughout it seems more akin to "playground love" rather than anything deep or substantial, so at the end the payoff is not as effective as it could have been.
Chow's movies are usually thematically very Chinese and are tailored for Chinese audiences, and if international audiences can appreciate it, then it is a bonus (Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle also follows this trail). Although Chow's film is tonally Chinese, there are (not so subtle) light-hearted nods to Spielberg's Jaws in the first scene; then there is the pig spirit that would not look out of place in Princess Mononoke's forest. Where Miyasaki is talking about the importance of nature and the environment, Journey To The West intimates upon ideas such as fate and karma.
After such a long hiatus, expectations are naturally high. What we have is a thoroughly entertaining tale set to the wavelength of what we would expect from a Stephen Chow comedy. There are some terrific set-pieces and many laugh out loud moments. This is more Kung Fu Hustle than CJ7. We will look forward to his next movie...in a few years time perhaps!
Starring:Shu Qi, Wen Zhang, Huang Bo, Show Luo, Chrissie Chau, He Wen Hui, Yang Di, Zhao Zhi Ling, Li Shang Zheng, Chen BingQiang
Director: Stephen Chow, Derek Kwok
Producer: Stephen Chow
In cinema 7th Feb 2013 (HK)