Movie Review: The Monkey King (2014 HK-China film) – Donnie Yen

Donnie Yen as Sun Wukong in The Monkey King 2014 movie still poster

WHAT A MESS – Donnie Yen’s impressive ‘Monkey King’ performance let down by the entire production of the film

It was initially speculated that this adaptation was going to be more faithful to the Chinese literature classic Journey to the West, and would focus specifically on the first chapters from the birth of The Monkey King Sun Wukong to the “Havoc in The Heavenly Kingdom”, but disappointingly, the story’s amateurishly altered and with the utterly poor CGI, makeup and costumes, the film turned out like an obsolete children’s TV show.

In this adaptation, the Bull Demon King (Aaron Kwok) is not Sun Wukong’s (Donnie Yen) sworn brother, instead, he’s the leader of demons who, after his defeat against the Jade Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) at the beginning, attempts to manipulate and trick Sun Wukong into assisting him in his war against heaven. After reading just this, I bet those of you who’re familiar with the story would probably suspect that the outcome, where Sun Wukong is punished by Buddha in the end, would no longer make much of a sense (it’s so unfair, it might even be offensive to the Buddhists). What’s most disappointing is that the film fails to depict the “Great Sage, Equal to Heaven” godliness and unmanageable nature of the Monkey King. The “havoc in heaven” is ultimately not as epically havoc and terrorising as I had hoped, and that defeats the grand purpose of the Chinese title. All the characters, including the protagonist, are not well developed, hence the lack of emotional attachment. The film also expects the audience to already know who the Guan Yin and Buddha are.

Donnie Yen as Sun Wukong in The Monkey King 2014 movie still

The only positives I can find in this film are Donnie Yen’s performance, his action choreography and the music score by Christopher Young. Yen’s display as the titular role is, if not the best, definitely the most lively one ever on feature film, perhaps even comparable to Liu Xiao Ling Tong’s performance in the 1986 and 2010 Journey to the West TV series, which many still consider it as the best screen adaptation of the original novel. Who would’ve thought the usually straight-faced and well-postured Ip Man star could play the Monkey God to this extend, complete with the variety of facial expressions and high pitch voice (not sure if it’s dubbed though). The performance of most of the other cast members, however, are largely insignificant. They also have very the little screen time and character development, as though they’re just passersby. Aaron Kwok provides no menacing factor for the antagonist role, and Chow Yun Fat’s role as Jade Emperor is very limited.

The production had David Ebner, Kevin Rafferty and Shaun Smith as the visual effect consultant, special effect supervisor and special makeup effect supervisor respectively, which makes me wonder, the hell were these experienced Hollywood filmmakers doing? Were they underpaid, too ambitious for the US$60 million budget, or were the post-production rushed into completion for 2014 Chinese New Year release? The computer-generated visuals are just as bad as you would expect from a Chinese production. It reminded me of the lagginess of playing Nintendo 64 games with an emulator on an old computer. Practically the entire movie is made out of CGI and it’s supposedly a big step forward for the Chinese film industry, why didn’t they take it more seriously? The costumes and makeups are very embarrassing as well, they look as though they were from carnivals.

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What I would’ve named film: “The Monkey King: LIVE on Stage in a Shopping Mall with 3-D Background Visuals”

Censorship in Malaysia: Highly doubt any scene were cut at the press screening. No idea why a kids show like this is classified as ‘P13’.

Second opinion: My girlfriend was frustrated with the CGI, costumes and makeup as well, wondering why (the producers) even bothered with CGI when they should know they suck at it. She also thought that there are too much action and little drama, although a few scenes did manage to move her.

Verdict: Kids might like it. Might. Chinese New Year or not, it’s quite unforgivable.

Rating: 2 / 5

The Monkey King 2014 movie poster Malaysia release feat. Donnie Yen, Aaron Kwok, Chow Yun FatChinese title: 西游记之大闹天宫 (Sai Yao Gei Ji Dai Lao Tin Gung)
Based on: Chinese classic “Journey to the West”
Country / language: Hong Kong-China / Cantonese
Rated: P13
Genre: Fantasy action
Running Time: 119 minutes
Director: Soi Cheang
Screenplay by: Edmond Wong, Lola Huo
Cast: Donnie Yen, Chow Yun-Fat, Aaron Kwok, Joe Chen, Peter Ho, Kelly Chen, Zhang Zilin, Gigi Leung

Synopsis: Based on selected chapters of Wu Cheng’en’s classical novel “Journey To The West” and will tell the story of how the Monkey King rebels against the Jade Emperor of Heaven. Famous martial artist and actor Donnie Yen stars as the titular protagonist and serves as the film’s action director.

Malaysia Release Date: January 30th 2014
Local Distributor: GSC Movies
Studio(s): Global Star Productions Inc, Filmko Pictures, Mandarin Films Ltd.

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