Tang Sanzang, an aspiring Buddhist hero tries to protect a village from three demons. He develops complex feelings for Miss Duan, the demon hunter who repeatedly helps him, and finally quests to meet the legendary Monkey King.
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Tang Monk brings three disciples on a journey to the West. On the outside, everything seems harmonious. However, tension is present beneath the surface, and their hearts and minds are not in agreement. After a series of demon-capturing events, the monk and his disciples gain mutual understanding of each others' hardships and unease. Finally, they resolve their inner conflict and work together to become an all-conquering, demon-exorcising team.
Even those who love everything Journey to the West or the Monkey King should only check it out if it was free
Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back is a sequel to 2013's Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, which I really liked. It is directed by Hong Kong veteran, Tsui Hark and written by Stephen Chow, who did not return to direct this one. The movie stars an all-new cast playing characters from the first movie, with the only person returning being Shu Qi. The first movie I thought was a really good Stephen Chow movie without Stephen Chow, and what really worked for me were the characters and their likability and humor. I really liked Wen Zhang and Shu Qi's chemistry with each other, and it made me root for their forbidden love to come to fruition. This movie loses Wen Zhang, being replaced by Kris Wu, and Shu Qi is delegated to a cameo appearance, and man are they big losses, because the actors in this movie did not hold up well at all. Neither did the script though, as frankly I felt this movie is just a mess. Drastic character changes out of the blue, inconsistencies and conveniences to push the plot forward litters throughout.
Unlike the first film where it was more of a prelude to the classical story, Demons Strike Back actually plays out the episodic narrative from the classical novel, with memorable arcs such as the spider demons and white skeleton being rendered in Stephen Chow slapstick style. We actually get to see Tang Monk along with the three disciples he conquered during the first movie journeying to the west this time around. While the plot moves along episodically, the main focus here is the tension between Tang and the Monkey King, as the former still blames the latter for Shu Qi's character's death. This relationship between master and disciple is so poorly written I spent the entire time not really caring for either character, since they themselves do not seem to care judging by the terrible things they do to one another. Tang is having visions of Shu Qi from the first movie, and blames the Monkey King for her death. I am very disappointed to see this is route they went with for the sequel, after all Shu Qi tempted Tang the entire first movie, but he did not once gave in once to her. Now that he is enlightened and is journeying west, all of a sudden he is lusting for her? That just seems very inconsistent. But I guess consistency is the last thing you should expect in these types of movies.
Even though Stephen Chow did not return to direct the movie, his style of humor is still emulated here. However, being a Chow fan since I was a kid, I was sorely disappointed with how unfunny this movie was. Not that they did not try, but the actors just do not have the comedic chops to pull off this type of humor. At times, things got really dumb and silly with a mind control dancing scene which is recycled from the first movie, and a crying grown man trying to pass as funny. Another thing that was off putting was the characterization of Piggy, who was always a pervert, but never the serial rapist as he was in this one. He literally attempts to rape every girl he encounters and it is played for laughs. As someone who has watched enough interpretations of Journey to the West, this was simply not funny and kind of ruined things for me. I did chuckle a few times throughout, and there are a few good gags such as when Sandy got turn back into a giant fish, but overall this was not the clever Stephen Chow film I am accustomed to.
The action in the film was good, but it is typical C-grade special effects-laden Chinese film affair. There was never a moment where I felt danger for any of the characters because the build-up to these action scenes tends to be humorous and lacking of tension. The main highlight for me is definitely the spider demons scene, it is by the far the most exciting action set piece in the movie. The CGI is pretty average, but at least the Chinese and Hong Kong film industries are improving in this department since the disastrous eye sore that was the Donnie Yen Monkey King movie.
Kris Wu, former K-pop star musters all of his charms and good looks and gives out a fine performance as Tang. Lin Gengxin, the Monkey King was intense and likable. The rest of the cast did the best they could, but as I mentioned before, they were simply not funny enough in my opinion. The best thing about the movie was the definitely the collection of attractive Chinese ladies assembled here. Yao Chen, Wang Likun and Lin Yun are all beautiful and charming. I love my female eye candy, and whenever these actresses were on screen, my eyes were glued.
Overall the movie is very pedestrian, but passable popcorn affair. Not horrible by any means, definitely watchable for some colorful action scenes. However, too many misses on jokes and poor plot and character developments cannot save the movie from mediocrity. Even those who love everything Journey to the West or the Monkey King should only check it out if it was free and you have a couple of hours to spare.
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