Donnie Yen takes the lead as Sun Wukong, the Monkey King in the highly successful, um, Monkey King!
Are you familiar with the Monkey King? Well he’s a popular character from ‘Journey to the West’ – a Chinese Novel that’s a good 500 years old. It’s one of the four great classic novels of Chinese literature – in other worlds the most influential writings of (really) old skool Chinese fiction.
Also, if you grew up watching Monkey, singing the “Monkey Magic” theme song you’ll be familiar with it all. But you would have heard of the Monkey King since then n the more recent ‘Monkey Magic’ movie and of course ‘The Forbidden Kingdom‘ where Jet Li plays a fun and playful Wukong.
This film tells us of the origins of Wukong, how he became the King, got his cool getup and shiny golden staff and acquired his supernatural powers.
Naturally, there’s some obstacles to overcome and this film we see Donnie Yen’s Wukong being caught up between the Jade Emperor and the Bull Demon King in their struggle which inevitably leads to Monkey King betraying the Jade Emperor and being manipulated by the Bull Demon.
It’s a longer movie than we’re used to for Hong Kong action films and the first 80 minutes or so are very happily themed and leart hearted as we’re drawn into the antics of Wukong and his child like innocence and playful behavior. But with the the Bull Demon pulling a few strings you know something is slowly unfolding.
These first 80 minutes mentioned above are a little mixed in a way – most action fans or even film fans might find it a little sickeningly sweet and need a bit of endurance as you’re left waiting for something eventful to actually happen. It can get a bit drawn as everything happening is just so wonderful and positive – relying entirely on Donnie Yen’s superb portrayal of what could be to some, a quite annoying character…
… but if you’re watching the this film in the first place you’ve got to be aware that the main character is going to jump around like a monkey, so the ‘annoying character’ some may find is pretty irrelevant in my opinion.
I did find that the ‘endurance’ portion set things up perfectly as the film takes a dark turn and Wukong has to deal with betrayal and the death of those he loves most. This is when things get interesting and the action takes off.
Don’t get too excited Donnie Yen fans – this is in no way a martial arts epic.
Donnie shows off a few quick flashes of nice martial arts movement, but this movie is driven almost entirely by CGI. The film is more CGI than it is anything else!
The battles and fights consist of a lot of flying and floating about heaven using magic and mythical beasts to do the damage and rely little on human movement. The movie is like a visual masterpiece of digital art with some impressive imagery and ‘okayish’ action.
What Yen fans may appreciate though is the monkey like movement he uses in the less action packed scenes as he moves and flips around with such grace and brings true ‘monkey-like’ personality to his performance.
Even his voice, facial expressions and overall energy make his performance shine through the CGI and visuals to bring some personality to the film. Donnie deserves a pat on the back for his talents as the physical movements mixed in perfectly with his acting to create a believable portrayal.
Overall? It’s a fun portrayal of a classic Chinese story. It’s an okay film in general but despite starring guys like Donnie Yen and Chow Yun Fat, it’s not a martial arts film in my opinion. Unfortunately, many are going to be disappointed.
If you’re curious, you can get your hands on the Region Free Blu-ray here!