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Wu Kong - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Wu Kong Zhuan

China 2017


Derek Kwok

Eddie Peng
Ni Ni
Shawn Yue
Oho Ou
Faye Yu
Zheng Shuang
Qiao Shan
Yang Di

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Wu Kong

Wu Kong - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Sun Wukong (Eddie Peng) enters the Heavenly Kingdom and disturbs the peace as Goddess Hua Ji (Faye Yu) destroyed his mountain Huaguo after he has been brought down by the powers of the Heavenly Kingdom when he was a demon. Being reborn as the monkey king he wants to destroy the giant machine in Heaven which determines the fate of all mortals. First, he runs into the Goddess' daughter, though. Ahzi (Ni Ni) somehow takes a shine to Wukong, but one of her friends, the immortal Erlangshen (Shawn Yue), and the right hand of the goddess, Tianpeng (Oho Ou), overpower him. A tiara is put on the monkey king's head which allows Ahzi to have him on a tight leash. However, Wukong hasn't given up on his plan yet and Ahzi secretly doesn't agree with her mother's government decisions. Eventually, the ruler of the Heavenly Kingdom finds out who Wukong really is. She assigns the task to kill him to Erlangshen and Tianpeng. The two warriors, Wukong and Ahzi fall into the realm of the mortals and lose their powers. They end up on Mount Huaguo and have to defend themselves against a cloud demon which spreads fear and terror among the residents of a village. The four decide to work together in order to help the villagers. But Hua Ji has already sent her warriors down to Mount Huaguo...

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Review: That the story of the monkey king Sun Wukong hasn't been exploited enough yet shouldn't surprise anyone. With "Wu Kong" we have more of an origin story, though, which tells the beginnings of the (anti-)hero. The flick is not based on the original piece of work "Journey to the West", but on an internet novel from the year 2000 by Jin Hezai. Provided that the story finally comes into spotlight it isn't that bad since there is among others also a metaphor on Hong Kong implemented which is on the verge of being devoured by China. But as is the case with so many fantasy flicks from China the movie struggles with its focus on special effects and battles which become hard to follow in their epic scale and are simply too "noisy". Furthermore, dividing the film into three parts is a bother since we get the impression of watching three episodes of a series.

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The first part is shaped by humor which introduces us to the different characters. The humor itself isn't as over-the-top as you might expect. At least it doesn't become awkward. But just when the lines are drawn the protagonists end up on earth and have to unite in order to fight a powerful enemy. The intention behind this approach is to give the individuals more color. However, this isn't crowned with success. Everything just takes place at the surface and the relationships which are established between the couples aren't really successfully developed any further. There are even a few odd scenes between Wukong and Ahzi in which Wukong seems a bit too boyish and bewildered, simply as if being in the wrong movie. At least we are sold on what direction the relationship between those two is supposed to head into.

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Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is marginalized. Only Shawn Yue ("Love in the Buff") doesn't only convince with his buffed body, but also with a character which assumedly has quite some depth. Some of his scenes are surprisingly sophisticated and thus he is the one leaving the greatest impression next to Wukong. Faye Yu may provide the necessary charisma as the villainess, but nothing more, and Oho Ou could have been a nice addition to the movie if the script had done more with him. The problem with the second third of the film isn't just that the characters are supposed to get more depth in order to set the stage for the following drama, while their stories are sadly just being touched upon and therefore can't really affect us in any way, but the inconsistencies in style in regard to the first third are so striking that you get the feeling of watching a different movie. However, it needs to be pointed out that we realize during the last third what purpose this bonding of different characters served.

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Ultimately, everything is heading for the big showdown. And this includes a great number of dramatic moments, including flashbacks, an emotional score, tears and yes, even a ballad which is a big no-go in my opinion. Very rarely are ballads used without making us think we have a soap opera in front of us. This is particularly annoying since some of the scenes would work out quite well otherwise. The fate of the individuals can move us more than we would have imagined. Being especially surprising is Sun Wukong's transformation, though. Eddie Peng ("Operation Mekong") may not deliver a bad performance up until that point, but Aaron Kwok did better in "The Monkey King 2" since Peng's monkey king seems a bit too nice and not so much chaos-loving. But somehow that's not that bad since this is a origin story after all.

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At the end Eddie Peng turns into the true monkey king, however, and you almost don't recognize him anymore. The moment in which this antihero is born is one of the movie's strongest. After that an epic battle commences of course, and this in the truest sense of the word as the CGI-effects fill out the whole screen. The ideas are at times good, but director Derek Kwok (having already co-directed "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons") gets lost in fantasy hullabaloo as so many before him which is a shame since the genre would have so much to offer in the hands of a true visionary. At least it's not all smoke and mirrors since the characters have been delivered appealingly up until that point. And as already stated there are some interesting motives hidden under the story's surface. Moreover, Wukong's fight for a self-determined fate simple conveys the kind of message easy to identify with. Sadly, this doesn't change the fact that "Wu Kong" is a mixed bag.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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