Episode 74 – Journey to the West (2013)

or “Monkey Shines”

Featuring: Zhang “The Guillotines” Wen , Qi “The Transporter” Shu , Bo “The Story of David” Huang

Directors: Stephen “Kung-Fu Hustle” Chow & Chin-kin “Full Strike” Kwok

Writers: Stephen “Kung-Fu Hustle” Chow , Chin-kin “Full Strike” Kwok , Xin “Kung-Fu Hustle” Huo , Yun “Darkness Bride” Wang , Chi Keung “Shaolin Soccer” Fung , Ivy “The Lion Roars” Kong , Zhengyu Lu & Shing-Cheung Lee

Origin: China

Also Known As: Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons

Review_____

“I never got scared by seeing anything till now…but I am waiting for that day.”

Happy New Year! Unless you’re a native of the country today’s movie calls home, in which case you should come back and read this again on our after February 8th when the Year of the Fire Monkey (appropriate for this flick) gets underway. But for the rest of youse mugs, welcome to 2016! It’ll probably suck like every year before and after it, but why not give it the benefit of the doubt, eh? As the banner above states, the World Tour de Farce has taken some ExtenZe. Despite some roadblocks in last year’s stretch of globetrotting, I’m determined to see it through to the end! If you’re getting sick of movies full of Asian people (you racist!), then you might wanna come back sometime around March. For the rest of you, return your tray tables to the upright position, buckle your belts, and join me on this journey…TO THE WEST!

…By which I mean we’re going East. Don’t over think it.

China! Considered the longest running civilization on Earth (dating back to 6000 BC), China led (not to be confused with Chinese lead, which they paint exported children’s toys with) the world in arts and science for centuries until political and civil unrest gave their overall progress a case of the stutters, killing millions of people. The crown jewel of the remaining Communist nations is home to the world’s largest populace (1,373,000,000+ or 1/5 of the planet’s occupants!), the world’s longest continually used written language, as well as home to the planet condemning toxic industrial pollution cloud that will surely one day spawn Hexxus, setting into motion the next global extinction event.

If you’re a big fan of firearms and the 4th of July, think twice about disparaging the Middle Kingdom, because they invented fireworks and gunpowder. I guess that means we can blame them for all of the US’s mass shootings too? For fuck’s sake, even our domestic terrorism has been outsourced! The next time you wanna take a shit on China, also remember to thank them mid squat since they made it possible for you to wipe your crack with something other than your hand after. Yep, they gave us toilet paper too. They’re also responsible for compasses, printing, and paper, all of which are obsolete so who cares. China invented kites, originally made to scare off invaders who thought the flying paper constructs were dragons and demons. When it came to fending off legit evil spirits (and natural disasters) though, Chinese royalty used to keep Pandas around. Oh, and a number of historians like to credit/blame the Chinese for inventing soccer/futbol. Other popular inventions to come from the nation’s history include chopsticks (duh), iced cream, noodles, earthquake detection methods (for when the Pandas didn’t cut the hot mustard), mechanical clocks, methods of drilling for and harnessing natural gas, the decimal system, the crossbow (for you Daryl Dixon fans), martial arts (you’re welcome, Chuck Norris), silk, tea, and mapping of the circulatory system (“Cut, cut, cut, blood, spurt, artery, murder, Hitchcock, Psycho!”) among a few thousand other things!

The country officially became The People’s Republic of China on October 1st (they share a birthday with The Tomb!) 1949 under the stranglehold of leader Mao Zedong, who kept his grip on the citizens firm and chokey until his death in 1979. A whopping 22% of their export trade washes up on US shores, as can be seen in every day of American life with all of the stuff that has “Made in China” stamped on it. Nothing says “CAPITALISM!” like buying all of our cheap shit products from slave labor Communist manufacturing conglomerates!

Vascular disease and cancer are their leading killers (like pretty much everywhere else), though their infamous one-child law (recently changed to a two-child law) will take the biggest toll on their population depletion in the long run, as so many of their female babies were infanticised or put up for adoption to couples from other nations. This has left a fatal shortage of ladies to birth further generations, but has been a blessing for people around the world who put “diagnosed with Yellow Fever” on their Adult Friend Finder profiles. I admire their singular spawn stance, but feel it doesn’t go far enough. My burgeoning city-state will have mandatory sterilization or, as it’ll be called in government documents, the “All Children Left Behind” Act.

Cricket fights (the insects, not the sport) are a popular pastime (a new hobby for Michael Vick to consider) but stamp collecting is their most well liked way to waste time when they’re not making iPhones for a nickel an hour. Also, during the ’40s, Shanghai was the ONLY port in the entire world that accepted Jewish refugees without requiring an entry visa! This explains the ancient blood oath that sees Jews traditionally patronizing Chinese restaurants on Christmas. Oh, speaking of, the MSG engorged flavor orgies we stuff our faces with at the buffet? You know that stuff’s not actually Chinese in origin, right? Not even the fortune cookies. Those were invented in San Francisco.

Lastly, the highest grossing Chinese language film ever? That would be today’s movie!

Journey to the West isn’t so much based on the Chinese tale of the same name, as it is a prequel. Written 500 or so years ago (give or take), Journey to the West is considered one of “The Four Great Masterpieces” of the People’s Republic’s storied literary history. The other 3 are Water Margin, Dream of the Red Chamber, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Not to be confused with the four greatest literary masterpieces of the USA, which are The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick, The Godfather, and the novelization of Adventures In Dinosaur City. Not just popular in it’s fatherland, Journey has been a HEAVY influence on a lot of different Asian productions, especially in the last 50 years. Hell, just type in “Journey to the West” on IMDB and you’ll get a good idea of how much influence it has! These include the original “Dragonball” series from Japan and the critically acclaimed (and commercially flaccid) video game Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, which I played about half of before being distracted by something with zombies in it.

Much like Hollywood, China’s movie industry is apparently guilty of the always irritating “they made a movie based on this, so we need to a movie based on it too!” mentality, as one year after Journey to the West, another such influenced flick (starring Donnie Yen and Chow Yun Fat) made its way to the light of the silver screen, called The Monkey King. Where that movie (series) is more about filling in the backstory of the eponymous primate, Journey‘s focus (aside from trying to convince us to “don’t stop believing”) is on the original story’s Buddhist monk protagonist, Tang Sanzang…under the name Xuan Zang?

Yep. Due to various translations across different languages, “Tang Sanzang” has a few dozen different acceptable aliases. I’m not a fucking etymologist, so if you wanna know more (and you generally trust Wikipedia), you can read aboot it >>>here<<< Or just do what I do in these situations: don’t ask questions, go along with it, and hope you’re not being kidnapped for a ransom no one is willing to pay. And that’s the story of why Uncle Anubis isn’t invited to make hand turkey drawings at Thanksgiving anymore. It makes everybody sad. I have to wear gloves so children don’t stare at me in public…

Xuan Zang (Zhang Wen) is a Buddhist monk and aspiring demon hunter. Not in the game for the glory, the money, the pussy, or the dehydrated fish, Xuan simply wants to help people by exorcising the forces of darkness from their lives. While other such hunters rely on an array of mystical artifacts and religious tools of the trade, Xuan’s weapon of choice is… *pause for dramatic effect* …a book of nursery rhymes. *pause for slide whistle “goodbye boner” sound effect*

Yes, Xuan is so faithful to the teachings of his Buddhist Master (Sihan Cheng) that he values the existence of even these dangerous, man-eating horror shows as being sacred. #DemonLivesMatter Demons in this context aren’t the same as their Western cousins. Rather than being twisted hellbeasts from conception, the Eastern demons are humans, brought back from the dead and transformed into monstrous animals by their lust for vengeance against the dickholes who wronged them in life. In keeping with that, Xuan opts to appeal to their inner purity (we’re all born innocent, after all) via capturing them and singing them lullabies to reignite the light hidden in their darkness. The spiritual equivalent of trying to find a peanut M&M in a bathtub full of black licorice jellybeans.

Gimme a second to tamp down the chunder geyser summoned by my amalgamating the words “black” and “licorice”. Uggh. Shit’s nastier than fish liver lollipops.

The problem with singing to demons to make them stop eating children and cutting people in half is that it generally doesn’t get the job done, so Xuan’s not the most successful demon hunter in the land. In fact, he’s the least successful. He’s openly mocked by his peers (and not just because he dresses like a filthy beggar with Ablutophobia), assaulted by ignorant mobs of civilians who really overreact when someone disagrees with them, and questions whether he’s a worthy disciple to his Master, who continually reassures Xuan that he is a great demon hunter. He’s just lacking that archetypal “je ne sais quoi” that most heroes pick up around the mid-to-end of their origin story. He needs his (speaking of French stuff) Voltaire quote as recited to him by a father figure named after a food mascot before said father figure’s tragic death as a result of the hero’s selfish negligence. Or, maybe he’ll luck out and a giant fruit bat will just fly into his face one dark and stormy night, after which he’ll don a cape & cowl and fight the monsters with little metal versions of his corporate logo and incoherent growling.

It’s on one on Xuan’s failed missions that our hero meets the far more accomplished hunter Duan (Qi Shu). Even though she laughs when he tells her about his Mother Goose methods of exorcism, she turns from sarcastic rival to romantic interest almost instantly, admiring the monk’s suicidal levels of bravery to battle beastly bad guys with just his brains, his beliefs, and his berceuses. You’d think she was Pepé Le Pew on Viagra and he was a 3-legged black cat with a streak of white paint down his back the way she Swimfans our man! She will have his babies by hook or crook (or crooked hooker?). Duan’s so infatuated with getting Xuan’s dick wet, she even follows him to the (Wild Wild) West when Master sends him to seek demon combat experience from a legendary figure known as Sun Wukong – the Monkey King (Bo Huang). As per my spoiler avoision vows (and given that this is one of the few movies on the Tour that you can currently stream on NetFlix), I will leave it up to you whether you choose to delve further into the tale or not.

Though I had a fun time watching Journey to the West, it made me realize that Stephen Chow is basically the Guy Ritchie of Chinese cinema – his movies are good, but are so similar in structure that you’d swear one or two of them were just Chinese knock-offs… or whatever the equal to a Chinese knock-off of an originally Chinese made product would be. Did you see Kung-Fu Hustle or Shaolin Soccer? Yes? Then you’ve already seen Journey to the West. A hapless, shabby hero with a good heart gets himself in over his head with deadly forces that will surely kill him in the final act if he doesn’t discover the inner strength needed to overcome his own self-imposed limitations. There’s an awkward romance, super powered martial arts weirdos (with at least one of them being an elderly person) who can explode buildings with a punch, peace & love vanquishing evil, slapstick combat with cartoony violence that leads to characters’ features being stretched like rubber (and making squeaky chew toy sounds in this case), and thinly-veiled morality stuff about not letting your ego defeat you, listening to your heart, helping people being its own reward, the best offense being a good defense, the only certainties are death & taxes, no glove no love, you can’t win friends with salad, and all that other Aesop shit meant to brainwash kids into towing the company line. Stupid kids. So easy to brainwash. I hate you so.

I’m not saying any of this is bad. There’s a comfort in predictability. Chow’s movies are always good for some dumb, well-choreographed fun and the characters are always interesting and comical in their own ways. Xuan makes for a perfectly fine Rudy Ruettiger “loveable failure” hero, Duan is an endearingly awkward tomboy-in-love, Master is a jolly and supportive father figure, Sun is a wily little old con artist, and all of the ancillary hunter characters are fun for their own reasons too. The actors all put on fine performances, despite my having no fucking clue what they were saying. Their mannerisms and body languages carried it. Especially Chrissie Chow, whose overwhelming sex appeal as Si demands that her more sultry scenes be cut into a “spank edit”. Sure, there aren’t a lot of said scenes, but just cut her dancing and grinding into a looping 3 minute clip and I’ve got what I need! *wink*wink*wank*wank*

On the scarred side of this double-headed quarter, Chow’s pacing continues to be a little bumpy. It takes a smoke break near the middle of the movie that elicited a few yawns from me and made the final act feel a little rushed for time. Then again, given the “epic but simultaneously anti-epic” fashion in which the final showdown plays out, it may have ended all the same even if given five more minutes. His special effects budgets never quite catch up with his imagination either. The demons here aren’t perfect, but at least they’re not born of the bottom of the computer generated monster barrel where the SyFy Originals skulk. I’d like to see someone with some pull here in the States give Chow a big fat Hollywood budget like Disney did when they put James Gunn in the captain’s seat for Guardians of the Galaxy. I think we’d get something equally full of heart and wowwy-zowwy sauce.

Chow started filming the follow-up for Journey (someday love will find you) last August, touting a cast listing that may include Chow himself, but has apparently not confirmed any of the first movie’s players making a return. This is older info, so fuck knows how things have progressed since, fuck nose. I look forward to seeing said sequel when it’s settled, whatever the case. Partially because I look forward to another Stephen Chow feature, and partially out of curiosity because I want to see if he changes up his formula yet or just goes continues riding in the same limo that brought him to the dance.

Here’s a bit of trivia for you before we part ways down the crossroads of our days. This isn’t Stephen Chow’s first interaction with an adaptation-of-sorts for Journey to the West. In 1995, he starred in a two-part feature called A Chinese Odyssey, where he played the fabled Monkey King himself, as well as a reincarnated version named Joker! The performance nabbed him a Best Actor award from the Hong Kong Film Critics Society, which has to carry at least some prestige with it, right? I mean, anyone who refers to themselves as a “society” has to be a respectable association, correct?

That’s all for this week! Hope everybody’s 2016 is exponentially better than their 2015 (even if you had a good 2015, because things could always be better) and that the “MST3K” reboot is as awesome as we’re all praying to Prince of Space that it will be. The World Tour continues with our next episode, same Tomb time, same Tomb channel!… provided I don’t get too wrapped up blitzkrieging the teeming zombie masses in Dead Rising 3 or getting embarrassed by 10 year old aspiring Planeswalkers in Magic Origins (Xbox Live tag: TombOfAnubis). Until then, make peace with your gods, you smelly dogs!

Moral of the Story: Sometimes the most peaceful of protests can hit your persecutor like the fist of an angry god… and sometimes it can hit them with the fist of an angry god.

Screenshots_____

“I can’t wait till mom finds out I replaced all of her birth control pills with Tic-Tacs! I’ll have a little brother one way or another!”


Either somebody just got Jaws’ed or someone went swimming without checking her menstrual tracker app first.


“And Saint Atila raised the hand grenade up on high saying, ‘Oh, Lord, bless this thy hand grenade that with it thou mayest blow thy enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy.’”


Gah! He’s Dopey from the Seven Dwarfs as one of those “cartoon character drawn hyper-realistically” pictures brought to life!


So Chinese guys can grow hair on their heads and their faces, but not a single follicle on their chests? They look like big man-babies. Creepy.


[Peter Griffin voice:] “It’s Jackie Chan!”


Big Edna just found out the cake is a lie… she’s not happy.


[Mr. Burns voice:] “Mattingly! I thought I told you to trim those sideburns! Thats it, you’re off the team, for good!”


How every patient sees a Proctologist when the probing gloves comes on…


Look out, guys! It’s the vengeful spirit of women whose serious boyfriends won’t propose to them! Run!


“Ahhh! Butthead! I’m bleeding! My nose is still bleeding!”


Are anybody else’s pants shrinking/getting wet, or is it just mine?


“My parents told me the angry pig god would hunt me down if I ate an entire package of bacon by myself! Why didn’t I listen?!”


It’s not the size that counts, it’s how you use it!


…Then again, I guess size does play some importance.


“I told you, I’m not a ghost, I just a vegan. And even if I were a ghost, I couldn’t grant you any wishes! That’s a genie!”


“You can watch me deep throat this whole banana for a dollar! For a fiver, I’ll deep throat something else…”


“Thank you mister crackhead, but I don’t have any money to pay you for this. It also smells. REALLY bad.”


A rare picture of Corey Haim in his final days. Hugs not drugs, kids.

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Anubis will return next time in
“Heads on Pianos: Return of the Black Gift”

Enjoy the review? Hate the review? Have a movie you’d like to see judged in The Tomb? Fill out the feedback form! Never has it been easier to make contact with a deitic being!

All materials found within this review are the intellectual properties and opinions of the original writer. The Tomb of Anubis claims no responsibility for the views expressed in this review, but we do lay a copyright claim on it beeyotch, so don’t steal from this shit or we’ll have to go all Farmer Vincent on your silly asses. © October 1st 2013 and beyond, not to be reproduced in any way without the express written consent of the reviewer and The Tomb of Anubis, or pain of a physical and legal nature will follow. Touch not lest ye be touched.

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