Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013)
Director: Chi-kin Kwok
I had really been looking forward to this film as it seemed to appear out of nowhere after another project based on Journey to the West, the Monkey King was announced. Given the torturous nature of post production on Stephen Chow movies in the past few years I can understand why it took so long to finish.
Another thing which may disappoint some of his fans is that Stephen Chow is not in the film. Standing in for the role that he would have played in his earlier films is Wen Zhang as "the Unshaven Monk" Xuan Zang a demon hunter, but a pretty bad one as he only has a children's book of nursery rhymes to fight the demons with and the people in the fishing village string him up not believing the actual demon is still in the water.
He acts like a massive dork for a lot of the movie and while he does some funny things, most of the scenes are stolen by demon hunter Bai Gu Jing (Shu Qi) in full tomboy mode with a dirty face and wiping her nose on her sleeve (probably). There is even one scene with her dancing with Sun Wukong that looks like it was in one of the outtakes they left in as it looks so natural.
She does make some funny faces during some of her scenes also, like when she is fighting with the pig demon.
While Bai Gui can hold her own, Xuan Zang despairs that he is not good enough. His master encourages him to keep going, saying that he is just missing something and will find it in his own time.
Cut to a deserted restaurant famous for its BBQ pork and two lovers fall afoul of the pig demon HK Long. I have no idea why he has a shiny face in his human form, BBQ pork glaze? Xuan Zang turns up and sees through the illusion straight away, trying to fight the demon he is told to go hide by Bai Gui until the last minute where she asks him to suck out the demon essence. The demon proves to be too strong for the both of them and they have to flee. Xuan's master recommends he get the help of Sun Wukong (Huang Bo) imprisoned under "Five Fingers Mountain", but warns that the Monkey King is very hard to deal with.
At this point it gets a bit strange with characters starting to pile on, including Bai Gui's group of demon hunters, who try to trick Xuan into shacking up with their mistress and some hard core demon hunters including Prince Important, Almighty Foot and another hunter who is an expert in animal kung fu.
After another confrontation with the pig demon, Xuan gets sick of all the screwing around and decides to go see the Monkey King by himself. This sets up the last confrontation, but I will let you see that part for yourself.
While this is still a good movie and does have Stephen Chow behind it, I can't help think how much better it would be if he was actually in it. Also it is missing most of his usual ensemble cast and especially the impact that Sammo Hung had on Kung Fu Hustle with the fight scene he worked on. I am going to skip over CJ7 as it was not really up to much.
Monkey is hardly in the movie as it is more a prequel and the title refers to conquering the demons within oneself. Monkey is really a demon in this movie and kills several people, as do the other demons who you are expected to follow as the protagonists in the next couple of movies (it is planned to be a trilogy).
I did enjoy the settings and the costumes and the big river village is used well in the opening scene with lots of acrobatics and characters attempting to see-saw the river demon onto land with dozens of people jumping into the air.
The music is used well and I recognised some of the pieces from Kung Fu Hustle, there are definite musical cues that are used for the battle scenes
I saw the movie in Mandarin, but it is also being screened in Cantonese in limited locations. It is hard to tell from the subtitles, but Stephen Chow's earlier work is renowned for the heavy use of puns that never really came out through subtitles. As this was meant for a wider audience I am not sure this was a factor. Some people may miss it though as there was a whole series of historical legal comedies by Stephen Chow that was built around language.
It is also a lot different from A Chinese Odyssey 1 and 2 that Stephen Chow starred in and thankfully a lot easier to follow than those movies proved to be in parts.
I did see this movie in 3D, apart from a couple of scenes with the golden rings flying towards the screen and a mountain falling down onto the viewer I did not really notice it after a while. You are not really missing much watching it in 2D, I would have preferred to watch it that way as it is hard to read the subtitles and watch the movie if the images are coming out of the screen in front of them.
While it is still a good movie, there is no really need to rush out and go see it in the cinema unless you really want to. I would be happy to watch it on DVD at home again so I can see some of the fight scenes again and Shu Qi being silly.