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Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Xi You Xiang Mo Pian

China 2013

Fantasy, Action, Comedy

Stephen Chow
Derek Kwok Chi-Kin

Wen Zhang
Shu Qi
Huang Bo
Show Luo
Chrissie Chau
Chen Bing-Qiang
Xing Yu
Lee Sheung-Ching
Zhang Chao-Li
Cheng Sihan
Chiu Chi-Ling
Lu Zhengyu

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Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons

Story: Young demon hunter Xuanzhang (Wen Zhang) fights a water demon in a fishing village and realizes the limits of his skills. If it weren't for female demon hunter Duan (Shu Qi), who comes to his aid, not only had there been more victims among the fishermen but his own life would have been ended as well. Xuanzhang believes that not only humans but demons as well are initially good. Therefore, he is looking for "Greater Love". Unfortunately, he still lacks the special skills to awaken the good in demons, but his master firmly believes that Xuanzhang will one day be enlightened. Chasing a powerful pig demon Xuanzhang again runs into Duan, who has chosen him as her future husband because of his virtue. But Xuanzhang isn't interested and desperately looks for a way to take out the pig demon. It is said that Sun Wukong (Huang Bo), the Monkey King, knows a way, but because of his misdeeds he has been imprisoned in a mountain by Buddha 500 years ago. Xuanzhang has no other choice but to go on a quest to find Sun Wukong.

Review: "Journey to the West", written by Wu Cheng’en during Ming Dynasty, has already been adapted for the big screen several times. Even Stephen Chow has made this story into a movie with his two-parter "A Chinese Odyssey" before, but he is now retelling the story in a spectacular special effects-loaden film and along the way happens to break all box office records in China. After all, you can't help but think that he deserves this success, because as is always the case when Chow is involved, the movie is radiating charm at its finest and is above all else extremely entertaining. What you have to put up with is some incoherence in tone, a questionable structure and special effects, that can't hold a candle to that of Hollywood productions. Since this is a 3D-movie a good amount of the budget probably has been devoured by the technical realization of those effects, but if that was the case then a more sparse use of special effects would have been the obvious thing to do.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons - Film Screenshot 11

To get straight to the point, Stephen Chow doesn't play the lead role this time as he did in his former movies "Kung Fu Hustle" or "CJ7". He doesn't even have a cameo appearance. He fully focuses on his work as a screenwriter, producer and director of this work, although he shares latter job with Derek Kwok Chi-Kin ("Gallants"). His choice of actors certainly makes up for that, though. Wen Zhang could already prove his acting expertise at Jet Li's side in the quiet drama "Ocean Heaven", Shu Qi ("Confession of Pain") balances the tough-girl image with comedy very well and she is the most likeable individual in the film. However, truely exciting to watch is Huang Bo ("Cow") as the Money King. His demonic nature is portrayed by him in a very subtle, charming, but also mischievous way, making it a pleasure to watch him.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons - Film Screenshot 12

Naturally, there is also a lot to laugh about. A few scenes are very amusing, others, however, are aiming at a Chinese audience with their queer nature, it appears. But even if everyone will find something to laugh about, there are some problems arising here, too. In "Journey to the West" the atmosphere often shifts to more dark colors. Characters can actually die here, even innocent people and children. Furthermore, some scenes are pretty bloody, the comic-nature including funny sounds can't hide that fact either. So is this really still a comedy? Can you laugh without a guilty conscience? The uneven mood of the film eventually will dull the joy a bit and all in all remains an odd decision by Chow, which was already seen in former works of his.

This brings us to another point of criticism. Stephen Chow likes to quote from his own movies. But that is just a nice way of expressing that he is simply stealing from his own works. This time he also carries it too far. Many elements and scenes we have already seen this way or another in former works of his. Including the extreme over-the-top finale, whereas he also blatantly uses a scene from the videogame "Asura's Wrath". At least, things get so epic in Chow's showdown that it becomes deliberately ridiculous and a whole lot of fun. Except from him there isn't really anyone who manages to achieve that. Yet, he has to put up with some words of criticism about the special effects, which sometimes, especially when it comes to the computer-animated animals, aren't that convincing. Wasn't it predictable that the movie would make the tills ringing? To raise the budget a little bit wouldn't have been a bad idea or Chow could just have left a few of his ideas in a box for future projects.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons - Film Screenshot 13

Even though "Journey to the West" apparently may have some serious flaws, last but not least a certain episodic nature, this action comedy manages to entertain quite well. The characters are colorful, as is the case with everything in the movie naturally, the story is above reproach and the buddhistic pieces of wisdom hidden in the movie are very appealing. If Chow hadn't relied so much on special effects but more on his great cast, that shines even in the supporting roles, the movie would have gotten even more goodwill. A fantasy epic that borrows a lot from animes/video games, features some good humor as well as some pretty dark scenes. Chow targets a mature audience that has conserved the child within and wants to be entertained without having to completely check the brain at the entrance.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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