Those who grew up watching the cult Japanese TV series Monkey will find The Monkey King familiar. Having many elements which made it popular, the big screen take has a budget for which its television counterpart could only have wished. Based on Wu Ch’êng-ên’s classic Eastern tale Journey to the West, The Monkey King is an origin story and the first part of a projected trilogy. Hopefully the next chapters are made as this initial entry is just as imaginative and wild as the small-screen escapades seen decades ago.
Sun Wukong (Donnie Yen) is a monkey born from a heavenly rock. Acquiring supernatural powers, he begins to enjoy his earth-bound existence. When the wicked Bull Demon King (Aaron Kwok) seeks revenge against The Jade Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat) for casting him from Heaven, he uses Sun as a tool for vengeance. As the battle between good and evil rages, Sun, the self-proclaimed Monkey King, soon learns what it means to become a hero.
The Monkey King is a visually arresting action film making the most of its budget. Capturing the fun, grandeur, drama and excitement of its oft-told story, it’s a suitably fantastical ride for all-ages. Tonally, it occasionally loses focus, but has enough heart to maintain interest. Yen throws himself into the role of the mischievous simian adventurer with enough personality making it more than a one-dimensional role. He’s backed by a strong support cast successfully creating this strange but beguiling world in which their characters exist.
It’s the wonder we see in this world that makes The Monkey King memorable. The special effects and music are quite spectacular and sometimes overwhelm the tale. The poor use of subtitles and editing choices also make following The Monkey King difficult. Despite these moments there is enough amazing imagination and a pleasingly epic feel which continually captivates.
Echoing many of the elements from its TV forebear The Monkey King eventually becomes its own entity. Engaging, exciting and full of charm, it’s hoped the next chapter won’t be long coming for its potential new fans.
Reviewed by Patrick Moore
Rating out of 10: 7