May 9, 2014

Review: Xi you xiang mo pian [Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons] (2013)

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is the most recent movie in Stephen Chow's directorial efforts. I've only ever seen Kung Fu Hustle out of all his work and I didn't like it at all. It's a little curious as to why I didn't given the critical and popular reception it had but I'm chalking it up to inexperience on my behalf. It was probably about four years ago that I saw Kung Fu Hustle and I'd venture a guess that if I watched it today, I'd really like it a lot and that's all due to how I feel about Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. Chow has a unique and exaggerated form of comedy that I enjoyed this time around in JttW:CtD. I should probably give Kung Fu Hustle a second chance.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is based on a Chinese novel by Wu Cheng'en that is unsurprisingly called Journey to the West. Chow does take some liberties though and adds a healthy dose of comedy to the pot. It makes for an interesting mix of fantasy, action, romance and comedy. Hard to believe that all these elements can work but it does and the result is a lot of fun.


Genre: adventure, comedy, fantasy
Directed by: Stephen Chow, Chi-kin Kwok
Produced by: Ivy Kong, Dajun Zhang, Stephen Chow, etc.
Written by: Stephen Chow, Chi-kin Kwok, Xin Huo, etc.
Music by: Ying-Wah Wong
Running time: 110 minutes
Production company: Bingo Movie Development, Huayi Brothers Media, China Film Group, etc.
Distributed by: Huayi Brothers Media, Magnet Releasing, Nikkatsu, etc.
Country: China, Hong Kong
Language: Mandarin
Budget: N/A
Box office: $215,000,000 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Shu Qi, Wen Zhang, Huang Bo, Show Luo, Lee Sheung Ching, Chen Bing Qiang, Cheng Si Han, Xing Yu, Lu Zheng Yu, Chiu Chi Ling, Yang Di, Chrissie Chau, Ge Hang Yu, Min-hun Fung, Yeung Lun, Zhang Chao Li, He Wun Hui, Tina Tang, Chen Yichun, Liu Zhan Ling, Huang Xiao Chuan



Zhang Wen plays Xuan Zang, a Buddhist demon hunter who relies on a book of children's nursery rhymes to tame the demons he hunts. He is on a quest to find out the true meaning of Greater Love in order to find enlightenment. His bizarre method of catching demons is meant to be part of that journey but results are a little disappointing. Luckily he gets help from Miss Duan who is also a demon hunter but does so for pay. A demon requiring powers beyond their capabilities forces them on a trip to the Monkey King to get help.


JttW:CtD contains some pretty cool fantasy/action set pieces. The battles with demons are great to watch but it goes without saying that sequences have to rely on a lot of CGI. This CGI isn't of the best quality unfortunately and can at times take you out of the moment. I'd still say that the lesser CGI of this movie can be forgiven because of how interesting and action-packed these scenes are but it's definitely a point of criticism.

The characters in JttW: CtD are fascinating as well. Xuan Zang's insistence on using his ineffective demon taming ways is pretty noble and also wins the affection of Miss Duan. She's probably the best character played with gusto by Qi Shu. There are also a slew of secondary characters that are all funny in their own ways. 

In terms of the comedy, Chow's style can at times be guilty of pushing too hard. Sometimes a joke that was funny goes on for a few seconds too long when it doesn't need to. Obviously this is all subjective and all the same, there are some seriously hilarious moments in JttW: CtD. Chow's jokes could still benefit from some cuts here and there which would just heighten their impact. Sometimes leaving an audience wanting more is better than actually giving it to them.

Action is unbelievably ridiculous and very imaginative as well. Chow definitely has talent in coming up with crazy action and then combining that with other genres. None of the genres feel tacked on and I'd give credit to the main actors for successfully portraying their characters given the mood of particular scenes.

In the end, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is a ridiculous, fantastical romp. There's a lot of action that for the most part succeeds in not feeling second rate despite the bad CGI. Actors get their characters right and Stephen Chow's form of comedy is on full display. All in all it's a fun-filled ride that doesn't stop until the end.



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