Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Chow’

Journey to the West 2 (2017)

April 11, 2018

In 2015, I watched a little known (in this country) called Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. The movie is an adaptation of the book version originally published in the 16th century in China. The story follows a Buddhist monk who is journeying to retrieve Buddhist sutras (religious writings). On the way, he tussles with several demons. In the movie, it follows a Buddhist monk who also must contend with various monsters and demons. Many of China’s most enduring mythological characters are present in the story but especially the legendary Monkey King. The movie was absolutely wild and crazy but it was also touching in various ways. It had adventure, comedy, pathos, and so much weirdness. Although, I am not sure if the weirdness sprang from me being a westerner although I am not completely unfamiliar with Asian pop culture. The movie ended with the young monk with three new allies, walking off toward new adventures together. I had heard there was a sequel but I just have not gotten around to watching it.

As a point of order here, I should probably quickly explain what the word ‘demons’ means in Chinese culture as compared to how people in my culture talk about demons. In the West, we think of demons as related to Satan/Lucifer. Lucifer and his kin were fallen angels and dwell in Hell where they torture those who have sinned against God. While there is a whole Christian mythology that tells of the origins of demons, that is usually ignored in favor of fearmongering about Hell to keep people in line. So, this mythology is centered on Hell and the theme of punishing sins. In China, demons are known as Yaoguai and are kind of different from how we view demons. From what I understand, yaoguai are either ascended animal spirits or fallen celestial beings (which admittedly is similar to Lucifer). These creatures come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but the main goal of most yaoguai is to achieve immortality and thus become a deity. They also seem to like consuming people for various reasons. For example, a pig demon who starts consuming people because humans consume pigs all the time. The fastest ticket to immortality for a demon is to consume the flesh of a holy man. So, holy men really must be on their guard when it comes to demons.

This movie picks up almost right where it left off, with Tang and his three demon assistants traveling towards India for the sutras that are Tang’s goal. (A quick note, they changed the character’s name to Tang to match the book instead of the actual historical figure). He is played here by Kris Wu and he does a great job approaching is the role similarly to the previous actor. Even though he has officially achieved monk status, he is still the same goof that he was but he also still has that huge heart that helped him win the day previously. As one would expect, he has trouble dealing with the demons he had previously defeated. The Monkey King is played by Kenny Ling and he is a hot-tempered demon who fears his master’s power but ultimately wants to do good. He is such a jerk but it is done in such an endearing and comic way that I could not help but like him. The Pig and the Fish are their companions and they are both loveably pathetic.

This one is a little bit more action/comedy instead of an action/comedy/romance like the first film. Also, the main characters are much more powerful this time around which is to be expected. All of this means that the action setpieces and fights are way more involved but not much crazier. Both films have crazy fun action. The CGI, practical effects and makeup do a great job at bringing this otherworldly adventure to life. The creature designs of the principles and the various enemies are really inventive. They lead to a lot of unexpected moments where I thought I knew how things worked and then things abruptly changed. Some of it is very natural-looking and some of it is reminiscent of live-action Looney Tunes. The latter is par for the course when Stephen Chow is involved in a production. The costumes and set design are all very pretty and feel very much like what mythical and ancient China should feel like. The stunts and fights are a lot of fun with plenty of fluid motion that reminds me of combat in anime.

Overall, I loved this sequel a lot more than I expected to. I was initially disappointed that Stephen Chow was not directing and was only producing but Tsui Hark did a great job in his place. Also, the movie is still written by Chow. The movie is very funny and exciting. I would best describe it as a combination of Mel Brooks, Jackie Chan, and FLCL. Things just happen in the fights because the filmmakers thought they would be cool and if they do not make sense then who cares? In between these awesome fights are comedy set pieces with ridiculous characters. The movie is basically a series of stories bound together by the ongoing arc of the journey and the conflict between Tang and Monkey. Amongst all of the ridiculous fun, there is real emotion and we get to know the characters even more. I definitely recommend this and the first film.

Media Update 5/5/2016

May 5, 2016


Battle Royale (Japan 2000)

I had heard about this franchise a long while ago. I knew that it was a novel first (published in 1999), then a manga series and I had first heard of a tabletop RPG game based on the franchise. I never read or played any of that but I was aware of the franchise and I was vaguely interested. The basic premise is that 42 Japanese school children (our Grade 7, I think) are hauled off to an uninhabited island. They are each given a weapon and told that all but one must die or all will die in three days. This is fully supported by the Japanese government. What ensues is a very gory and very dark story of children in combat against children. The movie mostly follows a student named Nanahara and his friend Noriko. However, it also shows the audience the fates and movements of the other students through short vignettes. The movie was violent but very exciting, chilling and moving. I have heard the comparisons with Hunger Games but not only did Battle Royale come first, it is way more compelling. That is not to say that Hunger Games is bad, it is just a statement about how good Battle Royale is. The child actors are perhaps some of the best I have ever seen especially considering some of them were not given much to go on. This movie really surprised me and I definitely recommend it.


Journey to the West (China 2011)

I previously mentioned how much I loved Kung Fu Hustle. That movie was a Stephen Chow creation and, despite spelling his first name wrong, he put together a masterpiece of a martial arts film. Journey to the West is another Stephen Chow movie and his take on a Chinese novel published back in the Ming Dynasty. The original book followed the adventures and trials of a Buddhist monk journeying to obtain sacred texts. The novel added folk tale elements to the monk’s true account. I love folk tales and mythology. The movie takes that framework and makes a story about a demon hunter who fights demons through peaceful, empathetic means. The movie follows this man’s literal journey into the west to reach enlightenment and to fully accept his non-violent path given to him by his mentor. On the way, he encounters three powerful demons including the legendary Monkey King (a key figure in Chinese folktales). The movie has Chow’s great mix of comedy, strangeness and touching drama along with amazing digital and practical effects. This one does not have as much fighting but there is plenty of action and adventure to keep you satisfied. There is a very smooth merging of Buddhist philosophy with the playful brutality of the folk tales. Like most films that are similar to this one (Kung Fu Hustle, City Under Siege are two examples) there are a lot of different genres represented. I don’t want to spoil anymore so I will just say that I strongly urge you to watch this movie.


Wing Chun (Hong Kong 1994)

This was an interesting find. The movie seems to be designed mostly be a vehicle for Michelle Yeoh who would later go on to great fame in the United States due to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and one of the worst Bond films. Yeoh is a great martial artist but the choreography looked a little sloppy here in places. The acting is all in hyper-melodramatic style which makes some sense considering the plot. The movie is both a martial arts film and a romantic comedy of sorts. It shares a lot of classic Shakespearean (and older) comedy tropes such as mistaken identity and the effect of gender roles on dating. The movie is very, very silly but not in the way a Stephen Chow movie is silly. It was more Jackie Chan silly as there was a lot of mugging along with the martial arts. While it was not really a bad movie, it was not really my cup of tea. Maybe it was the mood, I was in but the exaggerated acting and the way the characters shouted almost every line was a little unnerving. It also felt like the movie could have used better ADR work in places. If I am listening to the original language track (Chinese) then it should not sound badly dubbed. This is a rare movie I would say don’t bother with.

Links of the Week:
Beach Slang – Noisy Heaven
Heaven & Hell – Bible Black
Method Man – Even If
Hank Williams – Jambalaya (on the Bayou)
Puffy Amiyumi – K2G

Weekly Updates
– Lost Girl Season 5 is really good.
– Daredevil Season 2 is awesome
– Gonna go see Keanu and Captain America: Civil War
– Started watching Kimmy Schmidt season 2 and it is hilarious
– Free Comic Book Day is this Saturday. Support your brick and mortar shop!
– This week’s theme is “Asian Action”
– Did everyone enjoy the A to Z Challenge last month?


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