Friday, November 8, 2013

Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons (2013)

I re-watched this movie on the flight to Frankfurt, so I was able to refresh myself and fine-tune my opinions.

On my initial watch when it was released (March, I think), I felt that the love story was contrived. After all, the monk hadn't shown much interest in the bounty-hunter chick, and until the point she died I thought that he may only have the slightest bit of feelings for her, and I wasn't exactly sure whether he said he loved her because he really felt that way about her, or that she was dying and he didn't want to make her feel worse.

Well, in the airplane version, they kissed.

That's right, folks, the monk kissed the dead bounty-hunter chick. That wasn't in the Malaysian release, because here, censors censor everything, unless it's blue peen; then the practice is different. They censor it the first few times, then forget to censor it for the rest of the movie.

Digressing, now I'm sure that he loved her, but still feel that the build-up wasn't enough. It did help, though, that I got to watch the original Mandarin release this time (we only had the Cantonese dub in Malaysia).

Anyway, the love story was the only thing that didn't gel well with me; I enjoyed the rest of the movie.

For the uninitiated, Journey to the West is a Chinese novel revolving around Xuanzhang (a Buddhist monk), who is instructed by the Goddess Guanyin to travel to India to obtain sutras. Interesting times abound with evil demons and other spirits, as Xuanzhang's flesh is believed to grant immortality to its eater. Since India is quite a ways from China, as protection, he is given four disciples of demon/spirit origin (in atonement for their sins). The most famous disciple is the Monkey King, whose mischief and bestial nature is controlled by the gold circlet/headband on his head, which Xuanzhang can tighten by chanting mantras. Anyway, since this post is meant to be a movie review, you can read up the Wikipedia summary here.

This movie is a prequel of sorts. It starts by portraying our monk as a demon-rehabilitator (I know that's not a word but you get what it means) that reads from a book called the 300 Nursery Rhymes, asking them to repent and be good. Throughout the film he encounters briefly the demons that will be his disciples and companions to the West (sadly, the Dragon of a white horse did not get love in this one), and romance (the one I was talking about earlier) where the girl did all the chasing.

Since Stephen Chow (the film's director/writer/producer) was the Monkey King himself in TWO movies (A Chinese Odyssey: Parts 1 and 2 from the 90's), I was very interested to see where he would go with this, since it's been a very long while since we heard from him (CJ7 doesn't count). The man himself didn't make an appearance in the movie, but his trademark humourslapstick, ridiculously impossible situations (that words simply can't do justice) and various wordplay dialogue ("important" to "impotent")was everywhere. It sounds just as funny in Mandarin as it did in Cantonese (since I don't really understand both), but I get now why we got the Cantonese version: the movie borrows some lines from A Chinese Odyssey, which is fully in Cantonese. Even the song used for the dance in the moonlight is from A Chinese Odyssey (albeit it's in Mandarin now).

Silly humour and ineffective romance aside, I do applaud the plot development. Being a prequel, it shows Xuanzhang's journey (see what I did there?) in finding himself, and how Sandy (water demon in this one) and Pigsy (the pig demon with the inn) are captured and eventually made disciples to Xuanzhang. Also saving the best (or most footage) for last, Xuanzhang seeks Monkey's help in defeating Pigsy, and is eventually tricked by Monkey into destroying the lotus flower acting as his prison seal (it's complicated), which culminates into a showdown between Monkey and some demon hunters before being subdued by Buddha.

In the process, Xuanzhang attains enlightenment with the death of the bounty-hunter chick (played by Shu Qi, who has come far from her annoying Storm Riders days), and discovers that true love (contrary to his belief) would not pose any hindrance to his monkly duties.

Oh, and in this installment, Xuanzhang becomes bald (like how a monk would be) because an enraged Monkey pulls all his hair out when Xuanzhang refuses to stop praying to Buddha. Xuanzhang actually has a thick set of hair (so thick it's a wig) through most of the film.

8.5/10. Do watch this movie, if you get the chance. You can appreciate the wordplay better if you understand Mandarin/Cantonese, but the English subtitles were up to par (like those for Kung Fu Hustle). You don't miss much either way.

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