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- Published on Amazon.com
ONCE UPON a time, a young Buddhist monk – Chen Xuanzhang – traveled the Chinese countryside to rid the people of bloodthirsty demons that plagued their villages. Armed only with a book of “300 Children’s Nursery Rhymes,” Chen wasn’t very good at it, but his heart was pure and his determination boundless. He met other demon hunters along the way; some were phonies and some were genuine, but all were in it for the money – the reward offered by the poor villagers (who could be really nasty once riled up).
Along the way, Chen finds out the demons were once human. But because of terrible, unjust deaths, they were transformed into vengeance-seeking monsters.
The path to enlightenment is full of irony. And in this case, lots of laughs and a few tears.
Director/writer Stephen Chow – “Shaolin Soccer” (2001), “Kung Fu Hustle” (2004) and “CJ7” (2008) – spins the 16th century Chinese literary classic, “Journey to the West,” into a fantastic blend of hilarity and tragedy. He keeps the laughs coming. Ever imagine what it might be like to beat up a life-sized squeaky toy? Chow will demonstrate – although, in a following sequence, you could be swallowing the lump in your throat from a heartbreaking sequence.
How does he do this – balance slapstick with tragedy? Chow’s is a one-of-a-kind, international talent. There’s no predicting what he’ll show us.
The HD picture is exquisite. Visuals blend camera work and CQI into something like a mix of realistic animation. Color is extraordinary, beginning with the turquoise lagoon and golden ochre village of the opening scene. A monster fish – part carp, part tiger, all big-eyes and dragony-teeth – torments the fishermen and their families shades of Spielberg’s “Jaws.” We meet Chen (Zhang Wen, “The Emperor and the White Snake,” 2011) here. The acrobatics come crazy fast as he enlists the help of a very reluctant holy man. But it’s Miss Duan (Qi Shu, “The Transporter,” 2002) who takes the monster out, with her martial arts skills and weapon of choice, the Infinite Flying Rings.
Tomboy-like Miss Duan falls in love with Chen, who protests he’s on a spiritual quest. She becomes more determined, enlisting the help of her sister and, eventually, The Monkey King, the trickster of Chinese legend played with disarming panache by Bo Huang. (Andy Serkis, meet your soul brother!)
Whether the scene is in daylight or night, the picture is clean, detailed and lush with color. Sound is robust, thundering through speakers during fight scenes with a monster fish or a giant boar, pinging and zinging everywhere with Miss Duan’s bracelets. Mandarin – with English subtitles – comes through cleanly along with a delightful musical score. The climatic duel featuring The Monkey King is awesome!
Chow usually acts in his films, but because of the complexity of “Journey to the West,” we see him as the director among the short featurettes – only 12 minutes long in their entirety. Mostly, Chow and his cast and crew try not to crack each other up during filming. But we also get a glimpse of wire-work, green screen sets and stunts in “Stunts and Special Effects,” “Cast & Characters,” “Director Stephen Chow,” “The Laughs,” “Production Design” and “Choreography.”
I won’t spoil anything about this masterpiece. You should discover it all for yourself – and, possibly, some kids. (Sad parts are no more disturbing than those found in “Bambi” or “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.) “Journey to the West” received a 92% rating on Rottentomatoes.com, so that tells you something, too.
If you need a great laugh that will also tug your heartstrings, this is it. — Kay Reynolds