The Monkey King Review (2014)

The Monkey King

Summary: Sun Wukong, (The Monkey King) is a monkey born from a heavenly stone who acquires supernatural powers. After rebelling against heaven and being imprisoned under a mountain for 500 years, he later accompanies the monk Xuanzang on a journey to India. Thus, according to legend, Buddhism is brought to ancient China. This much beloved story, is as much a part of Asian culture as The Iliad and The Odyssey or The Wizard of Oz are to the West.

Year: 2014

Australian Cinema Release Date: N/A

Australian DVD Release Date: 18th June, 2014

Country: China, Hong Kong

Director: Pou-Soi Cheang

Screenwriter: Tai-Li Chan, Kam-Yuen Szeto, Edmond Wong

Cast: Joe Chen (Princess Iron Fan), Kelly Chen (Goddess Of Mercy/Guanyin), Calvin Ka-Sing Cheng (Nezha), Siu-Fai Cheung (Heavenly King), Yun-Fat Chow (Jade Emporer), Yitian Hai (Master Puti), Peter Ho (Erlangshen), Aaron Kwok (Bull Demon King), Chung Him Law (Muzha), Cathy Yue-Yan Leung (Caixia Fairy), Gigi Leung (Chang’E), Jing Li (Green Monkey), Hua Liu (Dragon King Of The East Sea), Irene Wang (Caiyun Fairy), Zitong Xia (Ruxue), Hua Yan (Jade Warlord Guard), Donnie Yen (Sun Wukong/Monkey King), Zilin Zhang (Goddes Nu Wa)

Runtime: 90 mins

Classification: M




Harley Woods:

The Monkey King is a Hong Kong Chinese film based on classic stories most famously collected and retold in the novel “Journey To The West”, published anonymously but most commonly attributed to Wu Cheng’en. The screenplay of this film was written by Szeto Kam-Yuen, Edmond Wong, Lola Huo and Dali Chen.

The story revolves around Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, as he is raised to the Heavens to be taught higher skills and learning, including magic, and his subsequent fall and rise (and fall again). It is but an opening portion to the whole story of “Journey To The West”, but sets up and establishes the main character nicely.

The world created in the film is full of beautiful imagery and quite faithful to the legends and beliefs of the centuries these stories were told, even if being an embellished version of the origin part of Sun Wukong’s story. The CG elements were used quite successfully to realise the world and supply some great imagery. It is, however, let down a few times where modern audiences of Hollywood blockbusters might jeer, but it is not so bad as to ruin the overall aesthetic and charm of the movie. The locations created as well as the dragons we see throughout the film tend to be examples of the best computer effects work. I think the points where it falls a little flat are mostly to do with scene structure and how the elements are put together.

There is sometimes a ‘cartoony’ feel to the movie, but this does not jar with the overall tone, which is that of a grand adventure. Part of this is attributed to some of the slightly underdeveloped CG in scenes – such as the one where Sun links his tail affectionately with the vixen girl, Ruxue (Xia Zitong) – or when further animal spirit characters are introduced and they are all performers in costume rather than CG elements. The costume creations are marvellous in this movie, and for the animal spirits this works very well as you have real actors giving them character through movement and behaviour and making them interesting despite having no real development or stake in the plot.

Donnie Yen’s portrayal of Sun Wukong was exceptional, creating a whole character with well thought-out movement style for a monkey, carried right through to the development of a specific fighting style. The more subtle qualities he uses to portray the mischievous, yet good-hearted, protagonist through all of his furry make-up and costuming deserves much praise.

As something of a change to the tradition, Sun is given a love interest as a means to get him invested in the battle to come, and also as a means for the villainous Buffalo Demon King (Aaron Kwok) to manipulate the character into rash and wilful action.

It is the monkey’s impetuousness and naiveté that get him into trouble, as fundamentally he is a child character. This is essentially a morality tale with examples of our basic behaviours and what we need to learn to be better and enlighten ourselves; just as many old tales of myth, legend and religion have told us for centuries. This is an exciting action tale which subtly educates us on the way; a great and colourful adventure for children to watch but equally rewarding for an adult who can more clearly notice the depth.

For kids of the Seventies and Eighties, you may remember the Japanese TV series adaption of “Journey To The West”, titled “Monkey” (no, it’s not named ‘Monkey Magic’ – that’s just a line in the theme song lyrics!). Whether or not it is deliberate, it seems like the director may have given some nods to this famous and beloved series. Most notably was the execution of one of Sun’s tricks – the conjuring of an army (of clones of himself) created by the shedding of strands of his hair. The way it is shown took me right back to watching it in the old show, only with a bit more skill to the effects work.

On the whole, while some of these effects and the structure of the elements could have used some work, the movie itself is very well done and engaging. The end is set-up to carry on into the next chapter of the story where Sun Wukong begins the journey to the West with the boy monk, Tang Sanzang. This story begins in the sequel, released in February 2016.




Average Subculture Rating (out of 5):  Stars(4)


IMDB Rating:  The Monkey King (2014) on IMDb


Other Subculture Entertainment Reviews of ‘The Monkey King′: Nil