REVIEW: Journey to the West – Conquering the Demons (2013)

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2013, Village Roadshow Pictures Asia/Edko Films/China Film Co./Huayi Brothers Media/Chinavision Media Group/Bingo Movie Development

Director:
Stephen Chow
Producers:
Stephen Chow
Wang Zhonglei
Ivy Kong
Zhang Dajun
Writers:
Stephen Chow
Derek Kwok
Lola Huo
Wang Yun
Andrew Fung
Lu Zhengyu
Jiro Lee
Ivy Kong
Cinematography:
Choi Sung-Fai
Gao Hu
Editing:
Andy Chan

Cast:
Wen Zhang (Chan Xuanzang)
Shu Qi (Miss Duan)
Show Lo (Prince Vacant/Prince Important)
Huang Bo (Monkey King)
Jiro Lee (Fish Demon)
Chen Bing-Qiang (Pig Demon)
Cheng Si-Han (Master Nameless)
Xing Yu (Fist of the North Star)
Lu Zhengyu (Chief Goblin)
Chiu Chi-Ling (2nd Goblin)
Yang Di (3rd Goblin)
Chrissie Chau (4th Goblin)
Ge Hangyu (5th Goblin)

Hong Kong’s comedy king, Stephen Chow, returns to the director’s chair with an all-new comic adaptation of the classic novel Journey to the West, which starts with how the future monk Tripitika meets the future heroes who join him on the titular journey.

In a small village, there have been myths of a fish demon who has been wreaking havoc. When little girl Sheng and her fisherman father play one day, the nightmare is believed to be true when the father, in an attempt to play with his daughter while swimming, is killed by the demon. When a Taoist priest attempts to exorcise the demon, he thinks he succeeded until demon hunter Chen Xuanzang reveals that the demon may still be around. At first, the village laughs it off until Chen proves to be correct. When the demon is captured, he turns human with Chen attempting to save him, until he is beaten by the demon. Miss Duan, a more forceful demon hunter, arrives and beats the demon down and turns him into a puppet.

Xuanzang becomes convinced that the way he has learned to hunt demons is ineffective but his master forces him to find “enlightenment”. Teaming with Miss Duan, Xuanzang learns of a local restaurant where the chef in charge is actually a pig demon. After an attempt to stop him fails, they learn that the only one capable to stop him is the Monkey King, a mischievous demon who has been imprisoned for 500 years. However, when they free him to help him stop the Pig Demon, will anyone be able to control the Monkey King and tame him before he wreaks havoc?

Stephen Chow truly is Hong Kong’s comedy king. After his final acting appearance in 2011’s ensemble piece The Founding of a Republic, Chow goes strictly behind the scenes as co-writer, co-producer, and director of this new loose adaptation of the classic Journey to the West. Chow has tackled this before in the 1994 two-part epic A Chinese Odyssey, where he took the central role of the Monkey King and his reincarnated soul, a wise-cracking troublemaker named Joker. Under Chow’s direction, it is clear that this is a Stephen Chow movie just with Chow actually in it

The core cast is great in the film, led by Wen Zhang as the “untidy” demon hunter Xuanzang, who will find his destiny to become the monk Tripitika. The major difference between him and Shu Qi, who plays fellow demon hunter Duan, are the methods they use to hunt down demons. Xuanzang reads a children’s nursery rhyme book to find the goodness within demons while Duan uses more force and unleashes a series of beatdowns in an attempt to trap them like Ghostbusters.

Huang Bo also brings a combination of hysterics and scares as the Monkey King. The hysterics come in his introductory form, which brings reminiscence of the Beast’s intro in Kung Fu Hustle, another Chow film. However, when the Monkey King goes into full demon mode, it is quite shocking and in one pivotal scene, it will have you thinking of the hit manga and anime Dragon Ball, itself a loose adaptation of the classic novel with hero Son Goku based on the Monkey King. Jiro Lee’s Fish Demon is introduced in a very funny manner in terms of his transformation from monster fish to human. And to add that Chow taste of humor, the see saw attempt to get the demon on shore is perhaps one of the most hilarious scenes in the film.

Dee Dee Ku, the action choreographer of the hit AMC series Into the Badlands, did the action directing here and brings that fantasy style of wuxia action mixed in with some believable CGI effects. Shu Qi gets some great action in the film, especially with the Pig Demon battles. The demon battles are quite a delight to watch as well as they have a few scares but they are what we expect in a Stephen Chow film. The film released a sequel with a new cast in 2017, Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back, with Chow as co-writer and co-producer with the legendary Tsui Hark taking the reins as director.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is a fun Stephen Chow film without Chow in front of the screens. A great cast supplies Chow’s brand of humor mixed in with a few scares but some believable CGI and pretty good action scenes. Truly a fun ride!

WFG RATING: A-

DVD/BLU-RAY

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