Stephen Chow has been honing his skill as a highly specialized film-maker par excellence, notably with Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle, CJ7 and now Journey to the West – Conquering the Demons; injecting photo-realistic CGIs, comic innovations and content with a moral thread. Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is his curious new reboot of the tale after declaring his acting retirement. A prequel to the legend, it begins with the monk Xuan Zang (Wen Zhang, a poor replacement for Chow’s physicality and personality) still a novice and far from enlightenment. Show Luo’s appearance in this movie was like his usual funny-self in his TV entertainment news. I would appreciate it more if he would have neglected his usual style and adopted a new one. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s not a good thing too, it lies somewhere on the neutral side. I guess on the good side, his fans will love to see him.
The classic story of Journey to the West is given a new twist. In the hundreds years old story the Monkey King was imprisoned by Bhuddha for wreaking havoc in heaven. He must seek redemption with Piggy, Sandy monk to help Tang Seng on his journey to seek enlightenment. I won’t give away the story of this movie. But I will say that I was very satisfied and that if you like Hong Kong movies or Stephen Chow’s movie, you must go to the theater to see it. A literally last-minute twist redeems the final act somewhat for viewers at all familiar with the ancient Chinese source material, but the disappointment still lingers, like realizing that the old class clown has grown up to be your son’s humorless high school principal. At least Huang Bo is both hilarious and malevolent as the Monkey King. Shu Qi, though, is a bit miscast as the tomboy demon hunter. This is most obvious in a scene where her supposedly rough and tumble character has to be taught to be sexy by Chrissie Chau Sau-na.
Chow’s modern adaptation of Journey to the West may pales, as compared to his 1995’s duology A Chinese Odyssey, but the precarious adventure serves enough satisfaction with plenty of familiar Chow’s signatures of slapstick humor and insensible action. This looks and feel like a good old Hong Kong movie. I love it. Sadly, the once exciting Hong Kong movie industry is a shadow of it’s former self. With most productions moving to China now. Unlike many other major blockbuster which tends to derail away with surmountable side stories, this one, however, is more focus.
Spectacular fights and transformations ensue. The film is worth seeing just for its splendidly funny and alarming opening sequence, a riff on Jaws in which a waterfront village is menaced by a fish demon. It’s a tour de force of steampunk slapstick. Chow never quite manages to top this opening set piece, but it’s clear the film as a whole is merely a prologue, the journey of the title doesn’t kick off until the last minute. Hopefully, when he delves properly into the actual tale he loves so much, he’ll do it more credit than he has this fairly thin origin story. In his defense, the source material is a lucrative update of one of China’s most beloved literary epics. How could it possibly live up to the hype?