Hi all and welcome to 2014, it’s good to be back and writing again, I took quite a hiatus but there’s only so long before the beck and call of a keyboard and some choice snarky words bring me back into the loop. It is a privilege to write for the up-and-up Graffiti crew and I hope you are all enjoying my Asian content, which I hope to focus on even more this year.
Sadly 2014 is not off to a good start with the dire Monkey King.
Soi Cheang (Motorway, Accident), a Hong Kong director I greatly admire has sold his soul and dabbled into major mainstream fare with a messy and rushed production that bears none of his style. The drawing cards here are the big name cast and the nostalgia factor of the Monkey Magic story; Journey To The West proper.
This is however a prequel. Tracing Sun Wukong’s (that cheeky monkey who is played by Donnie Yen because why not) birth from a goddess and hundreds of years later where he eventually challenges heaven itself. The film plays out poorly until the end where he is entombed in that famous mountain by Buddha himself.
Where to start with what is wrong with this film? It would be quicker to say what is right with it; nothing. This is poor from beginning to end, every element has been squandered for a quick buck. The CGI is woeful and incomplete to the point that the film lags like a scratched Playstation 2 game. The big name stars seem content to float about, snarl and frown on occasion all while the shoddy green screen does all the work. Chow Yun-Fat plays the god of all gods in heaven; who knew such a grand deity simply phones it in? That would explain the Earth’s creation below him. A poorly plotted and zoned mess - here is the forest area, here is Hell sort of, and here is some underwater place; like levels in a videogame in the brainstorming phase.
Plot other than Sun Wukong being an annoying moron include usually awesome Aaron Kwok as the Bull Demon King, who after being banished to pseudo-hell hatches a plot to use Sun’s powers against heaven. His whiny pregnant wife by his side is merely a placeholder when she could have been so much more.
A bunch of other forgettable characters but well-known names bloat the screen and add nothing to proceedings also.
Don't be fooled, this awesome goddess character is in the film for 0.2 seconds.
Hold up; remember I said this film had nothing going for it? Well if you’re into psychotropic drugs and have ran out of your stash The Monkey King will do in a pinch. Other than the hyper-reality at play, the 3D, particularly in the Enter The Void inspired tunnels of light, send your brain into seizure mode. In addition the extras in the background are animal demon hybrids in costume - shoddy, shoddy costume. The stark juxtaposition of real human actors, computer backgrounds and costumed bumbling half-assed crab men is all the drugs you will ever need.
The film concludes with an ‘epic battle’ that feels so short and meaningless, that even sights of terrible green screen soldiers walking on air like it was pavement will have you howling with boredom. Unrealistic fights have still been fantastic and marvelous; take any of Tsui Hark’s (Detective Dee) work for instance, there is no excuse for this lazy attempt. Yes the film was rushed out the door for Chinese New Year, but it needs more than a polish to make it even a decent viewing experience. It knows this and does not care, so why should we?
Kwenton Bellette - follow Kwenton on Twitter here: @Kwenton
Kwenton Bellette is extremely passionate about Asian film and the resurgence of new waves taking place in Korea, Japan and China in the last 10 years. He joined the global site Twitchfilm in 2009, is the artistic director of the Fantastic Asia Film Festival is Melbourne and currently studies a film masters degree at Melbourne University. He is very excited to raise further awareness of the what he thinks is the most exciting film industry in the world.