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It’s been a while, but I talked about several Chinese movies any film lover should see. Someone who had the honor of holding two films on that list was director and actor Stephen Chow. Gifted in slapstick, over the top, silly dialogue and action, Chow has cemented himself as a current leader in both quality comedy and a Chinese celebrity. His most recent movie, released in 2013 in China, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is the highest grossest Chinese language movie ever. So I got my hands on the movie and had to see it myself, not really sure how I would feel about it after loving Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer so much. Here’s a quick summary of the premise.
Xuan Zang (Zhang Wen) is an unorthodox demon hunter. Instead of pummeling them into submission, he uses a pacifist approach through nursery rhymes to appeal to their inner good. But when he gets in over his head, the aggressive demon hunter Miss Duan (Qi Shu) is forced to save his life over and over again. Together they foil each other out as they journey to the west, conquering demons (get it?). Along the way, slapstick, seduction, and heartbreak occur on the road as they learn more about each other then either of them really wanted.
New Faces, Old Faces, Same Chow
In Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle, and CJ7, Stephen Chow both directed and acted in those movies. In Journey to the West, he elected to not have an acting part in this movie. The new cast had a number of new faces as well as returning ones. Our hero Zhang Wen is the spitting image of Stephen Chow in the way he acts and carries himself. His supporting cast include a number of faces familiar from his previous movies. Particularly charming are Qi Shu and Chrissie Chau. Shu plays the crazy, clingy, yet adorable Miss Duan and Chau plays a hot chick who dances in one scene. Obviously my priorities are in order.
All actors involved deliver the trademark Stephen Chow dialogue and mannerisms that I’ll discuss below.
The Slapstick and Comedic Timing is Absolutely Ace
The entire movie carries similar comedic tones and execution as Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. The slapstick is brilliantly delivered by the actors who were game to incorporate Chow’s distinct taste of dialogue and physical humor. Awkward sequences, Chinese malapropisms, deadpan reactions, and physical slapstick riddle the movie with laughs a minute. I’ve truly never seen another movie like it, without being told who the director was, its so easy to identify Chow’s unique style in the way he makes his movies.
Thrilling Action Sequences
Stephen Chow is a big fan of kung fu. Three of the four movies I have seen with him include some version of kung fu. Journey to the West isn’t as reliant on the art of kung fu itself as much as Shaolin Soccer or Kung Fu Hustle, but there is enough kung fu and general action to be thoroughly entertained throughout the movie. Other fight sequences are just as absurd and irreverent as the comedic tone of the movie, incorporating a range of ridiculous fight styles and crazy ‘anime-inspired’ special attacks.
The CGI is Corny Yet Fitting
There was a lot of CGI in this movie, more-so then the other Stephen Chow movies and even those had quite a bit of CGI. A lot of the CGI moments are obvious and stand out, whether they be crumbling buildings, pushed tents, or the animals. Some of these can be distracting from the movie and can even force you out of the immersion of the movie, but the rest of the movie is so irreverent and ridiculous that it kind of works in a ‘good campy’ kind of way.
The Last Quarter of the Movie was a Bit of Meh
I haven’t really touched on the story because in all honesty I liked the stories of Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer a lot more. I’m not entirely familiar with the popular Chinese folk tale ‘Journey to the West‘ is based off of, but maybe because its a little obviously derived that I wasn’t impressed with the story. Like I said, much better then the actual story itself is the characters and interactions within the story. Unfortunately, these characters and interactions took a sideline towards the end of the movie which becomes a large ‘anime-esque’ CGI fight fest that feels a little too dragged on. Like Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, the final sequence slowly gets more and more over the top before it hits ‘spirit bomb’ levels of ridiculousness, which are also my least favorite parts of those corresponding movies.
Overall, if you’re a fan of Stephen Chow, please check out Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. It’s been an eternity since Stephen Chow made a movie, so we must take these acorns like squirrels knowing the winter draught is upon us.