Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons
I have a huge soft spot for Actor-Director Extraordinaire Stephen Chow, and grew up mostly on his slapstick antics such as the “Fight Back to School” and “God of Gamblers” franchises.
Proving that he wasn’t just a funny actor, he went on to direct himself in God of Cookery and King of Comedy. Since then, it seems the directing bug’s caught on for good, and he went on to find huge success in Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, both of which got rave reviews in Hollywood.
Long time fans will know that he played the role of Monkey King in 1994’s two-part film A Chinese Odyssey. He returns this time to the source material, but stays completely behind the scenes as director.
In this prequel/re-imagining/origins story, Chen Xuan Zang (Wen Zhang), a pre-enlightened Tripitaka, is a newbie demon hunter, our to change the world and rid evil with nothing but his positivity and a book of 300 Nursery Rhymes. Along the way, he is assisted by a real demon hunter Bai Gu Jing (the ever lovely Shu Qi), who will help in capturing the 3 core demons in the film; a water demon, a pig demon, and the Monkey King (all 3 of whom will eventually escort Tripitaka to collect the scriptures in India)
The film structure is thus segmented into 3 distinct parts, each with its own setup. The opening sequence is especially riveting, centering on a remote fishing village and its brush with the water demon, followed by a visit to a restaurant where the pig demon is the head chef, and a final showdown with arguably the most fearsome demon in the entire Journey to the West folklore, the monkey king. (And Stephen Chow is not afraid to make the monkey king ugly and loathesome)
Stephen Chow, while noted for his brand of physical, slapstick comedy, has in recent years shown a lot more heart in his films, and here, its shown in the movie’s final moments as Xuan Zang shares a tender moment with Shu Qi, referencing an oft used line in his 1994 A Chinese Odyssey films.
An entertaining film, but it could be so much better, if he’d star in it.