Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013)

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013)
Director: Stephen Chow, Chi-Kin Kwok
Starring: Zhang Wen, Qi Shu and Bo Huang
Running Time: 110 min

I love cartoons and I love horror violence and if you can find a way to combined those two things, then you have me like a cat chasing a sunbeam.  Then when you include director Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle), with his brilliant martial arts madness, you have me purring all day with a film that's hard to miss.

 After a man is attacked by a demon in the bay of a small fishing village, a Taoist priest captures a giant, I mean giant mantra and claims that the demon has been captured.  However, novice Buddist demon hunter, Xuan Zang disagrees with the priest and warns the village to stay out of the water. Of course this advice unheeded, and goes comically bad, with Xuan Zang being considered a witch and is hung up from the arms above the water, while the villagers celebrate the destruction of the demon in the water.  After a few minutes of splashing around, the villagers are attacked again by this enormous fish demon.  Luckily, Zang is able to release himself and with a little help from the villagers he is able to capture the demon.  Once captured, he tries to soothe and redeem the demon by reading the nursery rhymes for his ancient text of 300 nursery rhymes.  This doesn't work, but Miss Duan, a female demon bounty hunter, steps in and captures the demon.  Saddened that his method didn't work, Zang goes back to his master, who sends him on a journey to be enlightened.
  Zang's next stop is a restaurant and as he is being shown around by the maitre d, Zang notices something unusual, all the people there are dead and when he tells the maitre d what he can see, Zang is attacked by the ghastly patrons.  Once again, Miss Duan intercedes in the battle but unfortunately, the Pig Demon escapes them.  To makes things worse, Miss Duan tells Zang that she is in love with him and will stop at nothing until her love is reciprocated.  Zang goes back to his master for advice and his master tells him to find the Monkey King, he is the only one that can help them to stop the Pig Demon.  Can Zang find the Monkey King in time before the Pig Demon kills filets more victims or will Zang be penned and barbequed in the end.

  This movie was hilarious!  Stephen Chow has a great sense of humour and a wonderful directing style when it comes to these over the top, slapstick, martial arts movies.  This film has a great look to it and the battle scenes with each of the demons are incredible.  It's a wonderful mix of CG, wire acrobatics and awesome practical effects.
  Hats off to the actors and stuntmen, this could not have been an easy project to do, with so many moving parts but they seem to do it effortlessly.  Zhang Wen (The Guillotines, The Emporer & The Snake), who plays Xuan Zang is perfect for this role and has the ability to capture the essence of each scene.  Also, Qi Shu (Transporter 2, The Eye 2), is equally awesome, playing a great character with such a duality like Miss Duan.  At times she is a hard as nails Demon hunter, who can kick some serious ass but when she tries to be more feminine to seduce Zang, she finds it difficult and awkward which leads to some very humorous scenes.

  My only issues with this film is that I found there seems to be a real lull in the second act.  Once Zang is searching for the Monkey King to battle the demon pig, the film slows down and switches focus to the relationship between Zang and Miss Duan.  There are some funny bits but it seems to lose some momentum.
  Also, they introduce some other demon hunters from Chinese lore that are well used later on, but being from North America, it felt I was missing out on some of the jokes.
  Finally, this has nothing to do with the film itself but the rating was a PG, which really surprised me.  There is some serious horrific scenes (not complaining) in this and some content that would be scary to watch for younger kids.  Sure it's cartoony but I don't know if I'd let my kids watch this.  I'm not saying don't, but watch it first cuz I think this is should be PG-13.

  The special features are a little slim but they do include a some behind the scenes footage of Stephen Chow working with the actors & actresses.  It's incredible to watch Chow run through scenes with his actors and see how involved he is with every element of the film and not in an overbearing way.  He's having fun and I think this comes across in his films.

  This is a great film and has a little bit of something for everybody, incredible action sequences, hilarious cartoonish characters and horrifying demons.  Best of all it has a compelling story that is brought to life and you will want to see it again and again.

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