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Based on Xu Haofeng's novel A Monk Comes Down the Mountain, the film relates the story of a listless young Taoist cleric called He Anxia who is ejected from his impoverished monastery and finds himself playing Virgil in an infernal 1930s Chinese city. Written by
A very odd mash-up between Kung-Fu Hustle and Forrest Gump
Director Kaige Chen is one of China's most acclaimed directors, so I went in this with relatively high expectations. Unfortunately, this movie turned out as a letdown, being an uneven mess of a movie. It feels like it has had not one, but several directors on set, fighting about what kind of movie they want to do. The final result is disappointing piece of work, which at least has some scenes of magical beauty to save it from being a complete failure.
Mixing martial-arts and slapstick comedy is by no means a bad idea, as both genres require a lot of physical talent and choreography. And it has been done several times very successfully, see Kung-Fu Hustle as a prime example. Jackie Chan actually built an entire career on these kinds of movie. In this case however, the formula doesn't seem to work.
The plot follows young monk He Anxia, who is forced to leave his temple and find his way in the real world, which is set somewhere in China of the 1920ies. On his journey, He meets several people, from an apothecary who is betrayed by his wife and his brother, to a mysterious janitor, who appears to have mastered a unique art of Kung-Fu, the "ape style". Also, somewhere in this is at least one love story, but this is hard to tell. Could be accidental. The whole piece is narrated by He's son, whom we never meet in person throughout the entire movie. Why? That is one of the many, many questions this movie leaves behind.
The main character seems to be some kind of Chinese Forrest Gump (there are actually a couple of references to this movie). So, in the first act, He Anxia acts more like a retard, who is overwhelmed by the modern world he sets foot in for the first time. Unfortunately, as the movie progresses, the development of his character is completely left behind. More and more people enter and leave the scenery, as if this was a bus-station, not a movie. Likewise, new plot lines open up, only to be dropped immediately, and the whole thing becomes more and confusing. The title-giving "Monk, coming down the mountain" finds himself sidelined, as the story progresses. One cannot say, what came first, but as the movie falls apart dramatically, it also loses its way tone wise. What started more like a screwball comedy, turns into a mystical martial-arts piece and ends up as a gangster- movie. For absolutely no reason, there even is full CGI-sequence with monkey in the jungle. It has absolutely no coherence whatsoever.
On the plus side, there are some beautiful shots and the fight- scenes do have some special moments. There is a glimpse of a potentially good movie here and there. It's a pity, that these glimpses haven't been brought to shine in this case. Kaige Chen is a fantastic director, but this movie feels lazy, unambitious and is not a great example of Chinese movie-making.
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