Monday, 3 February 2014

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The Monkey King 3D [Review]


Opinion: B-

By Jason Lin

Arguably the highest anticipated Asian films this lunar new year, The Monkey King squanders what appears to be a relatively good screenplay adapted from one of the most popular Chinese literature and folklore with an over-saturation of visual effects in almost every sequence. This results in a major 120 minutes eyesore and an unfortunate distraction from an otherwise valuable characterisation and narrative development.


After the Battle of Gods and Demons, Nu Wa (Goddess of Works) used 36,500 magic boulders to repair Heaven and one of it fell accidentally onto Earth and sat on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruits on an island across the Eastern Sea. Bathed for thousands of years in the energies of Heaven and Earth as well as the light of Sun and Moon, a godly creature was nurtured inside the stone-egg and finally it cracked open to release a full-grown monkey.


Only the second Chinese production to be shot on the giant format, having The Monkey King in IMAX 3D is a gratification for fans on paper. With a range of classic characters, heavenly entities and vast potential for a contemporary adaptation, Soi Cheang gives it a heavy visual treatment possibly to empower imaginations running wild. For this, the film employs the help of Hollywood talents like David Ebner (Alice in Wonderland) and Shaun Smith (300, I Am Legend) for blockbuster technical assurance.

Despite the meticulous approach engaged by the filmmakers and studio executives, the end result culminates in technical mediocrity under this opinion. A few VFX sequences having jarring frame rates aside (it literally looks like a system with an incompetent graphics card rendering the visuals), there are also a couple of CG elements appearing to be pixelated (particularly blatant when this opinion viewed it upfront in 3D). When almost every sequence is designed with visual effects in mind, it frustratingly causes a significant distraction from other merits that the film may have.

The Monkey King begins with the birth and origins of Sun Wukong (Donnie Yen), whose commencing life journey is of interest to watch. As a third party, one gets to understand Sun's good nature that is eventually convoluted by external influences of both good and evil. Sun is born with vast potential of greatness, which is acknowledged and subsequently exploited by many. This serves as a classic case example of the impacts of exploiting talent and power for good and wicked intentions.

One is also able to comprehend the devastating effects of uncontrollable anger and rage that may be triggered by even the purest and kindest source of goodwill cultivated within us. For this instance, it is the very example of the exploitation of good to wreck havoc when Sun is tricked into unleashing hell upon heaven (literally).



The second half of The Monkey King takes time to brew and simmer Sun's innate potential amidst perplexing factors that shroud his perception before it explodes in an exciting action finale that should satisfy genre fans. While it is relatively well managed and developed for Sun's character, it cannot be said the same for the other supporting characters.

With the exception of the magnetic screen presence of Chow Yun-Fat as the Jade Emperor, most characters tread in and out of Sun's story as mere plot devices - mechanisms to progress the film. This also includes its lead antagonist Bull Demon King (Aaron Kwok) with an intriguing side romance story with Princess Iron Fan (Joe Chen), both key characters in the classic novel, that didn't materialise in any manner. Even the romance plot tread between Sun and his childhood love interest Silver Nine-Tailed Fox (Xia Zitong) sizzles out in exchange to emphasise the primary plot.

The Monkey King will not have been a watchable film and protagonist if not for the lively performance of Donnie Yen as Sun, which entails the various behavioural traits of the legendary Monkey King. Make-up in this case has indeed surpassed expectations as few will have recognised the stature of Yen (since many symbolises him as an action star) under Sun's quirky physique and personality.

Uncertain if a sequel will follow particularly when the film stems off with a visual motif hint at a key character from the popular Chinese novel Journey to the West, The Monkey King will have been a greater film if not for lost opportunities in better supporting character development and the irritable visual spectacle that constitutes an expensive film budget blunder.

1 comment:

  1. My two cents: They could have spent more time in character development. I wasn't even aware that Monkey and Fox were a couple.
    Everything seemed too rushed. They could have divided the movie into two parts. The movie also lacked story development. I like how the original Dicky Cheung series explored his growth as a young monkey (with intrusion of Pig Demon's past life), up till he went to immortal academy followed by his quest for eternality by venturing into the immortal realms. They could have spent more time in developing the relationships / friendships between each other instead of jumping through the sequences of events. It seemed like Monkey King only spent one day in Heaven.
    I also feel it strange how far they deviated from the original storyline. Monkey and Bull should be about the same age as they had met in Immortal Academy as I recall. (In the novel they knew each other long before, cant remember if from the academy or just a mutual friendship)

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