The all-powerful Monkey King once roamed freely between Heaven and Earth, but after angering the gods, he was imprisoned within an ice cage deep within the mountains. Five hundred years ...
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Taking place in the Tang Dynasty, a demon cat appears and breaks the peace of Chang'an City, causing a series of strange events. Poet Bai Letian and Monk Kukai join hands to investigate the... See full summary »
The all-powerful Monkey King once roamed freely between Heaven and Earth, but after angering the gods, he was imprisoned within an ice cage deep within the mountains. Five hundred years later, monsters attack a small village and a child flees to the mountains. Unknowingly, the child releases the Monkey King from his curse. With the help and encouragement from this special child, Monkey King saves the village from the evil monsters.Written by
SC Films International
The second movie to which Jackie Chan has been attached with ties to the Legend of the Monkey King. The first was The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), where Jet Li played The Monkey King. See more »
The "Monkey King: Hero is back" (2015)-- And On His Way Home
The "Monkey King: Hero is back" (2015)-- And On His Way Home
TECHNICALLY speaking, "Monkey King: Hero is back" (2015) is essentially "all there"-- meaning that you can sit back and let the 3D animation take you into the story, without issues like lip-syncing or frame-rates breaking the "flow". But the frequent use of jump-cuts, fades-to-black and other cost-saving techniques (e.g "indestructible" clothes) also makes it clear that this is blockbuster film-making on a shoestring budget-- though the director can be seen burning through his budget where it matters., e.g. a cameo of the first-ever 3D-animated (available in IMAX) Chinese dragon rendered with mane, scales and all.
So even if the animation is not as detailed/fluid as the state-of-the-art Hollywood fare, you might still be able to enjoy how differently the developer of this film, October Animation Studio, chose to animate Chinese characters and landscapes.... Using old-school "motion capture"-- i.e. making animators study rehearsing actors like in "Only Yesterday" (1991)-- and manipulating space and perspective as deliberately as Chinese ink-paintings, this film accomplishes (in 3D, no less) the cinematic sweep and kinetic camera-work from kung-fu fantasy classics likes "Swordsman" (1990) and makes the likes of "Kung Fu Panda"(2008) look "cartoonish" by comparison.
But pretty moving pictures aside, now that I've established that this film is perfectly "watchable", what's the real story here? Well, a little background would be helpful.
N.B.(or BACKGROUND): More than 400 years ago, "Journey To The West" hit publishing houses in China (oldest existing print, 1592) and has never been out-of-print since-- but with all the spins-off and sequels that have been written/published throughout the centuries, not one of them has been a "true" successor worthy of re-reading or analysis.
Then some 50 years ago, with the advent of film technology, the animated film "Uproar In Heaven" (1965) hit the cinemas and showed audiences all the fantastical action and imagery described in the first major action set-pieces of "Journey To the West", such as the classic "transformation duel/pursuit" between the 3-Eyed God and the Monkey King-- and for decades, sealed the on-screen character of the Monkey King as an irrepressible rogue with a child-like sense of wonder/humor.
Then some 20 years ago, the 2-parter live-action film "A Chinese Odyssey" (1995) hit the cinemas and gave the Monkey King a "tragi-comical" love story as an alternate/added background to his journey to the west-- and so, like the young adult audiences it garnered, the Monkey King reached adulthood and began to see everything with a sense of loss and cynicism.
Then, just over a week ago, the 3D-animated film "Monkey King: Hero is back" (2015) hit Chinese cinemas and saw the character of the Monkey King take the next step of his development in film-- taking on the joys and frustrations of parenthood, and daring/struggling to care again.... With a predictably simple story that is smart enough to "show, don't tell" (go on-- get your parents to "explain" why they love you...), this film is about the emotional journey of a few lost souls on their way home... under the guise of a comic-fantasy action-adventure.
TD;DR (or REVIEW): At only 80+ minutes, the film throws in everything at breakneck speed-- so the current generation of film audiences (Chinese and international) should be able to enjoy it as mindless fun, IF they are not too concerned about "originality"... seeing as how, in their impressionable but uninformed minds, the Monkey King and Chinese dragons are based the likes of "Dragonball" (1989) **face-palm**.... "Journey To The West" was the progenitor of party-based "challenge of the week" serial storytelling-- complete with slapstick humor and witty banter-- and this film stays true to its roots and that time-honored formula, despite continuity and pacing issues (see first paragraph above).
But for the previous 2 generations of Chinese film audiences with memories of "Uproar In Heaven" (1965) and "A Chinese Odyssey" (1995)-- who have all but given up ever seeing the "true" Monkey King again (much less in 3D)-- this film is like a long-lost dream coming true.... In short, it is almost incomprehensible if you don't know enough about the "Journey To The West" universe (e.g. the Monkey King's reputation for finding and beating up dragons), but jam-packed with brilliant homages, meaningful references and clever in-jokes for the aficionado.
No wonder then, that it has become an internet and movie industry phenomenon in China as fans of the "Journey To The West" universe, or just Chinese animation generally, flooded social media and thanked the director for "bringing back my youth/childhood!" and "reminding me who I was!" In fact, the allegorical appeal of film (much like the novel) is so "spoiler-proof", that October Animation spoiled its story in a promotional music-video and STILL attracted repeated viewings in China-- possibly because the "tour-de-force" of escalating drama and action in the final act never gets old!
P.S.: Bets are on (and vulture/venture capitalists are circling) now as to whether this film will be become the "Nausicaa of Valley of the Wind" (1984) for Chinese animation, and whether October Animation will become the Studio Ghibli of China. Hopefully for everyone who "laugh-teared" throughout the film, October Animation will be able to finance all the planned sequels to "Monkey King: Hero is back" (2015) without any more money trouble, or interference from the moneyed-interests of the Chinese film industry-- and, unlike "Nausicaa of Valley of the Wind" (1984), finish telling the story it wants to tell.
P.P.S.: In contrast, one can see how/why the "Superman" (1978) movie has yet to see a "true" successor, whether its reboots/remakes tried aping it or veering off in a different direction-- e.g. "Superman Returns"(2006) introduced Superman's son but had nothing much/new to say about the characters or their relationships, while "Man of Steel"(2013) re-introduced Superman's father but had nothing much/new to say about the characters or their relationships either...
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