Friday, January 16, 2004

REVIEW: Monkey War 2: New Pilgrims To The West

* * ¼ (out of four)

Seen 9 January 2004 at Coolidge Corner #2 (Midnight Kung Fu Madness)

As with Thrilling Bloody Sword, this has to be a children's movie. A children's movie with at least one nasty scene where a character is sucked into a bottle which is then shaken until only blood pours out, and where the Monkey King must apparently protect his monk master from angry demons who want to eat him, sure, but it's got the sort of feel of something made for kids. There's no (subtitled) swearing, the fat guy shows far more skin than the attractive women, and many of the villains tend to see the error of their ways after being defeated and join the heroes on their quest, even one who was apparently eaten by the heroes (I'm sure, in Chinese culture, this makes perfect sense to show to children). The Monkey King learns humility and loyalty, and though the movie doesn't end so much as stop - since this is Monkey War 2, perhaps Monkey War 3 picks up where it left off, but only the first Monkey War is listed in the IMDB - it feels like some sort of lesson has been learned.

The fight scenes are not that exciting - Monkey King has some skill with a magic staff, but much of what goes on is "magical" combat, rather than the intricate choreography I go to these series for. The performances are good enough, and the make-up is surprisingly good - it's more subtle than the goofy suits people wore in Thrilling Bloody Sword. The facial hair on the Monkey King actually looks somewhat monkey-like, but still gives him an expressive face; the pig-demon has goofy ears and that's about it. It sort of reminded me of what Terry Jones would later do in The Wind In The Willows (which really, really, really needs to be out on DVD).

Part of the enjoyment here is, admittedly, the ... um... the minimal effort put into this movie at some points. You don't need elaborate sets when wandering around the desert, and the special effects can't be called any kind of "good". The subtitling is so bad that the title is actually spelled "New Tilgrems To The West" on-screen. So, we have another movie that is campy fun for a group of adult Americans... Though, naturally, that's probably the last audience that the filmmakers were thinking of.

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