JOURNEY TO THE WEST: CONQUERING DEMONS (2014)
I’ll admit despite my love of the Asian cinema, I am not a fan of Stephen Chow’s movies. I find his comedy bits to be heavy-handed and annoying far more than funny, his Looney Tunes inspired slapstick scenes wear out their welcome quickly and the tone of his films is all over the place. He’s got imagination and the film’s are colorful, I’ll give him that, but overall I find his humor tedious and grating. That and he loves to overdo it with cheesy CGI. And his latest tale adapted from a Chinese classic is no different, though I think I liked it better then what films of his I have seen.
The story is of monk and wannabe demon fighter Tang Sanzang (Wen Zhang) who would rather turn the demons back to good then destroy them. Tang must not only contend with a massive and murderous pig demon, but the amorous attentions of female demon fighter Miss Duan (the gorgeous Shu Qi) whose love for Tang goes against his wish to attain enlightenment with Buddha. To reach his goals his master advises him to seek out the imprisoned Monkey King (Huang Bo), the greatest of all the demons and convince him to reform and help subdue the pig demon. But with the interference of Duan and three other eccentric demon hunters, can Tang subdue The Monkey King or will he fall victim to the powerful trickster’s deceptive schemes and release the demon back into the world?
Ancient China set fantasy tale in itself could have been a lot of fun with it’s premise of a straight-laced monk being pursued by a fiery vixen of a demon hunter while facing some of the most powerful supernatural creatures in Chinese folklore, but once again Chow, this time with co-director Derek Kok, fills his movie with some really broad and unfunny comedy bits that go on far too long as do his cartoon-ish slapstick set-ups. The man has the sense of humor of a 12 year old. And it’s a shame, because the film has a fun story and some really nice visuals, not to mention, Wen Zhang and Shu Qui have a nice chemistry together, and could have been far more entertaining with a little restraint. But going overboard is Chow’s style and he seems to love to waste running time with really lame comedy routines like the endless prattle between a young couple who are only going to become victims in a few minutes anyway and the opening scene with a fish demon that is over 15 minutes long. It’s just tedious and annoying since it’s not funny to begin with. Thankfully Chow seems to settle down in the last act when Tang reaches the cave where the Monkey King is imprisoned and we get a showdown between demons and demon hunters with Tang’s quest for enlightenment put to the test. I did enjoy the last bit somewhat and it reminded me of some of the far better Chinese film fantasies that I love though, sillier and not as memorable. The FX are a bit stronger, so the CGI wasn’t as obnoxious as it could have been.
The cast all overact, but that is to be expected with such an overindulgent filmmaker at the helm. As stated Zhang and Qi work well together. Zhang makes a decent and noble hero though, it is the beautiful Shu Qi who shows a real gift for comedy despite that most of the bits fall flat or fail to be very funny. Too bad she didn’t have better material. The rest of the characters are all cartoon-ish and eccentric and the actors who portray them are suitably over the top and it works within the context of the type of film Chow is making.
I gave the movie a try and at least it didn’t give me a headache like Kung Fu Hustle. If you like Chow’s overindulgent style or find his juvenile sense of humor funny, then you should love this. For me it was just too silly…and not in a good way…and typical Chow with slapstick comedy bits that go on far too long or stop the story cold. There was some entertainment in the last act that didn’t get on my nerves and it was fun seeing Shu Qi show some comic gifts despite the weak bits she’s given to do. So, I’ll cut this film a bit of slack, but at this point, I don’t think I’ll be becoming a Stephen Chow fan anytime soon.
2 and 1/2 sexy demon fighters.