Legendary Hong Kong star, Stephen Chow who defines the age of 'mou lei tao' comedy genre is returning in full capacity as producer, director and writer for the new adaptation of the ever popular Journey to the West saga. Stephen Chow extends his love for satirical love for Kung-fu, edgy comedy and Buddhism mantra into this. But realizing how this saga has been over-adapted into small screens, Chow goes for the story before the known story instead. He tells the origin story of the four important characters in a different way but is this enough to welcome Chow back into the familiar signature we last seen in ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ and to avoid the disappointing ‘CJ7’?
Release Date: 07 February 2013
Running Time: 110 minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Stephen Chow, Derek Kok
Screenplay: Stephen Chow, Chi Keung Fung, Ivy Kong, Chi-kin Kwok
Starring: Shu Qi, Zhang Wen, Show Luo, Chrissie Chau, Huang Bo
Plot: Based on the classic Chinese tale of the same, the film follows Xuan Zang, a young demon-catcher who fearlessly risks his all and catches a water demon, a pig demon and the king of all demons, the Monkey King. Following our hero on his journey is Miss Duan (Shu Qi), a fellow demon-hunter who falls in love with him and ultimately teaches him the meaning of Greater Love.
This new adaptation, aforementioned, is a prequel that sets years before the main story, chronicling a young demon hunter Xuan Zang (Wen Zhang) who arrives at a riverside village where a vicious sea-monster is attacking its villagers. Believing that every demon has the ‘good’ side left in them, he attempts to use the “300 Nursery Rhyme” to tame but proves unsuccessful, only to have the monster beaten under the ferocious and skillful huntress, Duan (Shu Qi). Forming an unlikely partnership, they travel to the demon county to beat countless demons roaming the area.
Fortunately, Journey to the West is a warm return that reminiscence some of Chow’s past ‘mou lei tao’ success in various angles. The plot that he written, not only successfully captures the embodied spirit of the well-known saga but also contains high degree of ridiculous elements and characterization, something that channels so fluidly akin to ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ and ‘Shaolin Soccer. In this movie, the main arc of misadventure involves the two leads who are forced from the very beginning, often decorated with playful slapstick and insensible comedy in the filler. Look at the scene of how Shu Qi’s tomboy huntress Duan has to be taught sexy by her compatriot in front of Xuan Zang.
While the laugh is there, the absence of a physical Chow in constructing such integral joke maneuver is a minor concern. As you would have known by now that not everyone can be Chow himself but Chow guides his actors and providing them with his maestro ‘mou lei tao’ skills as much as possible. I thought that Huang Bo’s portrayal of the Monkey King is highly appraisal and the best of all with ample intimidation and malevolent. This results in having the necessary signatures been highly preserved, thus those who are familiar with Chow’s works should feared less.
Right from the beginning (if you would have guess it right), the movie serves as a platform of introducing the three main demons who will eventually travel with Xuan Zang to the West, as legendary indicted. Chow constructs three different setups that pave towards the ultimate ending. Each setup is distinctive in tones and is well-executed. But over the top action scenes and CGI recreation of the demons are somewhat, distracting and laughable. Unlike many other major blockbuster which tends to derail away with surmountable side stories, this one, however, is more focus.
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.