THE MONKEY KING (西游记之大闹天宫) (2014)

Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Director: Soi Cheang Pou-soi
Cast: Donnie Yen, Chow Yun-Fat, Aaron Kwok, Joe Chen, Peter Ho, Kelly Chen, Zhang Zilin, Gigi Leung
RunTime: 2 hrs
Rating: PG
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 6 February 2014

Synopsis: 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…

Movie Review:

Surely the production of this 3D movie extravaganza is an important business decision. How else would you explain the reported four million yuan thrown into the film’s budget? What about recruiting A listers Donnie Yen, Chow Yun Fat and Aaron Kwok to appear in the same movie? It is also hard not to notice the involvement of “ang moh” (read: Hollywood) talents who were in charge of the movie’s visual effects and special make up. In China, viewers get to watch this 120 minute blockbuster in IMAX3D glory. Plus, the fact that the production has taken four years to complete – definitely this is something worth our anticipation.

But, is it something Asians would be proud of?

Based on Wu Cheng En’s beloved classic novel Journey to the West, Soi Cheang’s (Motorway, Accident) version tells the story of how the Monkey King, otherwise known as Sun Wukong, rebels and creates havoc in Heaven, much to the chagrin of the Jade Emperor. Other characters in the tale include the ambitious and evidently upset Bull Demon King and his wife Princess Iron Fan, the jealous Erlang Shen, as well as other household names like Ne Zha, Guan Yin, Nuwa and the Nine Tailed Vixen.

Fans familiar with the fable will enjoy seeing these characters visualised on the big screen. Having celebrities personify them is a bonus. Mr Wing Chun Donnie Yen as Sun Wukong? Check. Mr God of Gamblers Chow Yun Fat acting regal as the Jade Emperor? Check. Pop idol Aaron Kwok sporting two horns to play the Bull Demon King? It’s a godsend. Elsewhere, there’s Peter Ho trying his best to look menacing as the three eyed Erlang Shen, and idol drama princess Joe Chen trying her best to look solemn as Princess Iron Fan. Also, spot Miss World Zhang ZIlin, 1990s popular singers Kelly Chen and Gigi Leung in walk on cameos.

It is a star studded affair alright. Yen, unrecognisable and hidden under his hairy makeup, is impressive and delivers the best performance. Moments of cheekiness, forlorn, loss and angst are the emotions the actor, better known for his role as Ip Man, have portrayed effectively here. Chow effortlessly plays the Jade Emperor, while Kwok does nothing much than to frown and look cross with his Bull Demon King. Ho’s Erlang Shen does a decent job of having viewers despise his unethically disloyal character. 

Alas, this celebrity burlesque is somewhat letdown by an onslaught of visual effects. From the first minute of this collaboration between China, Hong Kongand United Statesbrings on computer generated sets in an attempt to wow audiences. Some scenes are more impressive than the others: Heaven is a magnificent sea of gold, Sun Wukong’s birth place Hua Guo Shan is a lush spread of green, Dragon King’s underwater palace looks a little shoddy, while Bull Demon King’s fiery lair seems underdeveloped. There are also some questionable character designs, in particular the harmless demons who hang out with the Nine Tailed Vixen. This group of strangely cute characters is played by actors wearing mascot heads, and the unexplainable group of animals concerned includes a salamander and a, yes, you read it right here: panda.

There are some genuinely affectingly light hearted moments in this movie. Watch out for the scenes Sun Wukong says farewell to his master, and how he humiliates Erlang Shen’s iconic third eye on his forehead. Unfortunately, these are few and far between in this otherwise numbingly entertaining blockbuster.

Movie Rating:

(Donnie Yen is impressive as the Monkey King, but is unfortunately drowned by an overdose of visual effects)

Review by John Li   

You might also like:


Movie Stills