Released this week to Blu-Ray and DVD is the latest effort from director Stephen Chow, and if you know the name, then you know what to expect. Best known to Western audiences for his films Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer, Chow is a phenomenon, and Journey to the West is yet another enjoyable example of his style.
Combing Chinese mythology into an absurd comedy with fun action-pieces and a story of self-discovery, this live-action comic book is bound to entertain if you’re willing to give it a chance.
With demons plaguing the countryside, demon hunters are making a name for themselves, but Xuan Zang (Zhang Wen), stumbling along on his path to enlightenment, is more interested in redeeming their inner goodness than banishing or destroying them.
Seeking that special ‘something’ that will make him the best demon hunter, his master sends him on a journey across the country to seek and confront the devious Monkey King (Bo Huang). Along the way, he confronts a fish demon, and a hog demon, and a love-struck fellow demon hunter, Miss Duan (Qi Shu), and her gang of rogues.
In Chow’s fun style, the film resembles a live action cartoon in a lot of ways, and where in most mainstream films, the CG work in this film might oust the viewer from the film, it totally works in this film, buried as it is in mythology with a comic book flavor.
Chow’s films aren’t for everyone, they not only require a suspension of disbelief, they also require you to be ready for the absurd, comic, and the emotional in equal turns, and often at the same time. I’ve always found them highly enjoyable, with their hyper-reality, cartoon-style antics and computer-generated imagery, and while Chow himself doesn’t appear in this one, Wen’s performance, as what would most likely have been Chow’s character, is a lot of fun.
And let’s take a moment and reflect on that poster up above… that’s the kind of movie poster that I like, not this photoshopped imagery that seems to dominate theater walls nowadays, this has a distinctive Drew Struzan, the movie poster master if ever there was one, feel to it.
The video and audio on the Blu-ray is stunning, especially when the film gets going. There was a bit of grain in the first few minutes of the film, but it clears up quickly, and from then on the image is crystal clear, and the colors are vibrant.
Most of the demon effects are CG, but there is some really nice practical work, especially on the Monkey King, the most important demon in the film. He really does look like a Monkey Demon, and that is the highest compliment I can give to the work.
There are some great sequences, but watching Miss Duan take on the hordes of baddies in the Hog Demon’s realm, using her Infinity Ring, and some sweet moves, was the highlight for me.
A film filled with magic, laughs, fights, and yeah, even a bit of a message, if you’re a fan of Chow’s films, this one is a must, or if you’re just looking for something fun to watch with an Eastern flavor that doesn’t take itself too seriously… have a look.
Then let me know what you think!