Review: The Monkey King

Sometimes I watch films over my husband’s shoulder. The other night Bryon was watching The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven, a 2014 film starring Donnie Yen as the Monkey King. It looked pretty good, so yesterday I watched it with no shoulders in the way. For those of you who don’t know the story of the monkey king, this primer will get you up to speed. The Journey to the West sequence most folklorists are familiar with begins in The Monkey King 2, and there are plans for The Monkey King 3 to be released soon.

A critical overview of The Monkey King‘s reception in the United States points to what seems to me to be a lack of understanding about Chinese culture and cinema. Mind, I am certainly no expert, but I find the complaints of the movie lacking substance or the main character Sun Wukong of being annoying to be irritatingly groundless. In China it is the top grossing film of all time, and it is likely to be, as the story is as ingrained in the Chinese cultural conscious as Superman is in our own. Except, imagine if Superman had been around for some 500 years or so. Anyway, I think U.S. critics (and many viewers, if the Netflix ratings are to be believed) have no idea what to do with it.

From my perspective, it is a touching story. Cast aside all the special effects, and what you have is a story about an outsider trying to find his way in a world that is hostile to him, losing his love, and being used by people who do not have his interests at heart. Small wonder the Monkey King goes rogue at the end of the story, and that Sun WuKong can get his morality under control at all is some kind of miracle. It is a story of growth, redemption, and repentance. I dare you not to be touched when Sun WuKong tries to resurrect his dead friends, his enormous guilt for leaving them to try to gain acceptance in heaven weighing heavily upon his anguished shoulders. The story edits the original to make the Monkey King more sympathetic to good effect.

The special effects enhance the film. If you are not a fan of special effects like those found in The Sorcerer and the White Snake, that’s probably a good enough reason to not watch The Monkey King. Also, the film is in Chinese, and you are going to read subtitles, which is a turn off for many people. Personally, I am a snobby foreign film viewer, so this is only a plus for me. I don’t do English dubs. I didn’t do The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo U.S. style either.

So, this viewer is looking forward to The Monkey King 3, as well as completing my viewing of The Monkey King 2, which I’m about half way through. Check it out for yourself. Don’t let the reviewers fool you. This could well be one of my favorite films. EVER.

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