Blu-Ray Review: Journey To The West (Dir, Stephen Chow)

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When I first saw this trailer last year my first impression of it was not good. At that time it just looked stupid. I was reacting to the slapstick comedy and even though I liked it visually the comedy turned me off.

As we got closer to the release date for the DVD and the blu-ray a press release was sent my way I decided to have another look at the trailer. I seem to think it was a second trailer I saw this time for now I felt more receptive towards it. And now that I’ve just seen it last night I thank God I decided to have that second look; the movie was fantastic!

At its core it’s an Asian fantasy, predominantly an action comedy one, but it hits all the sub-genres nicely. You get a dose of horror, a love story sub-plot and a couple moments of drama. The dramatic moments kind of threw me for a loop, but it’s all pieced together sensibly and lyrically; all coming full circle for the main character at the end.

The movie is loosely based on a 16th century Chinese novel.

The movie centers on a group of demons hunters, but the one character it predominantly follows is a Tang Sanzang (Wen Zhang), a demon hunter in training who follows this book called, 300 Nursery Rhymes, believing singing the rhymes to demons will bring out their inner benevolence. This tactic is sorely tested right in the beginning of the movie as this fishing village is tormented by an immense fish demon, who ends up killing this little girl’s father.

A fake demon hunter shows up, kills a giant manta ray and then states the waters are safe.

They are most definitely not.

Once the villagers’ jump in the demon comes back and makes a mess of the place. That little girl I spoke of that lost her father ends up joining her Dad in the afterlife, and once the mother jumps in the water looking for vengeance (see photo above) she ends up joining her husband and daughter in the afterlife as well.

What ensures is a slapstick action scene that finally gets the fish demon onto dry land where he transforms into a naked man. Tang quickly sets out his demon hunting paraphernalia and tries to sing a nursery rhyme to the demon that only manages to irritate it further.

Enter Tang’s soon-to-be love interest, Duan (Shu Qi), also a demon hunter, a more experienced one, who turns the demon into what looks like some kind of ornament.

For a movie subtitled, Conquering The Demons, there are only three demons in this movie, but they all have alternate forms which kind of makes you feel like your seeing more than that.

Tang’s master tells him the story of the Fish Demon and tells him he must go to this mountain and get trained by the Monkey King. Along the way his and Duan’s love story blossoms; though, he keeps telling her he does not care for her in that way, and she constantly does not believe him always trying to make him love her.

The other demons they encounter are a Pig Demon that’s been luring travelers into this temple under false pretenses, killing them and then eating them. His form goes from innocent looking human, to humanoid pig-thing to giant CGI boar.

The final demon is the Monkey King himself, whom Buddha has imprisoned for 500 years in this cave. We later find out he’s the King of the demons and when he sheds his innocent human form he his exactly what his name suggests: a short, humanoid monkey-man who can shape-shift into a giant CGI ape.

There are other demon hunters we are introduced to, all them save for Duan’s sister and this kid are summarily wiped out by the Monkey King.

The CGI in this movie was top notch with the Fish Demon looking the most realistic. There is some practical FX too, like the Monkey King’s monkey-man form and the in-between stage of the Pig Demon.

This whole movie culminates in Buddha appearing in space just outside the earth’s atmosphere, during combat with Tang and the Monkey King, and then shoving his giant palm into and through the atmosphere, burning on re-entry as he seeks to put an end to the King of Demons down on the earth.

Oh, yeah, that actually happens!

Loved every minute of this movie, even that demon hunter with the bizarre deformed, tiny leg that turns into a giant, Kong-sized one upon command.

Oh, yeah, that actually happens, too.

Magnolia releases Journey To The West on separate DVD and Blu-ray editions on May 27th through their Magnet genre sub-label.

Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 2.35:1 anamorphic high definition—Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio/English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio/English/English Narrative/English SDH/Spanish/French subtitles.

There are 6 short featurettes (Stunts & Special Effects, Cast & Characters, Director Stephen Chow, The Laughs, Production Design and finally Choreography) that can be played separately or all at once (12:12).

I know Stephen Chow did a couple of other movies that got some attention, Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Kung Fu Hustle (2004) but those movies never interested me, now that he’s finally done one that has the man is now on my radar, especially since I hear a sequel to Journey To The West might happen.

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