新年快乐！ Since it’s Chinese New Year’s weekend and there are actually quite a few movies playing in the theatre near me, I decided to go see The Monkey King 3. I think this was the most people I’d seen in the theatre for a Chinese movie, attesting to the popularity of this story and the actors in it. It stars Feng Shaofeng (“The Starry Night, The Starry Sea”) and Zhao Liying (“Princess Agents”) and continues the story of the monk and his disciples traveling West.
The Monkey King movies are based on a Ming Dynasty novel called Journey to the West. For those of you who may not be familiar with the premise of this popular tale: A monk, Xuanzang, (Feng Shaofeng) travels west in search of the Buddhist scriptures so that he can bring enlightenment to the world. Traveling with him are his three disciples:
-The Monkey King, Sun Wukong (Aaron Kwok, Cold War), is a troublemaker with supernatural powers and often at odds with his master, but who ultimately wants to protect Xuanzang and help him complete his journey.
– Zhu Bajie (Xiao Shenyang, Detective Chinatown 2) is a pig demon who is a notorious flirt and can change his appearance to that of a handsome man when he is flirting with women.
– Sha Wujing (Him Law, Mob Sister) is a muscle-bound, blue-skinned, water buffalo demon whose strength can not be matched.
This movie starts with the four travelers floating down the River Oblivion, wondering what might happen if the monk ever falls in love, when they come upon a part of the river that is littered with the remains of several boats and ships. There is a depressed and grumpy river god (model Lin Chiling) living in this part of the river and, when the group attempt travel through, they end up being chased by the god in the form of a giant sea monster. Just when it looks like they may be eaten by the creature, Buddha opens up a portal to another realm to help them escape.
The crew finds they have crash landed in the Womanland of Western Liang, a land populated by only women and protected by a magic force field to prevent anyone entering or leaving. The Queen, played by Zhao Liying, is immediately attracted to the monk. Unfortunately there is a prophecy that says when these men arrive, they will bring about the end of Womanland. There is also a belief that men infect women with a love poison that has no cure and they must be executed to eliminate the danger. The group quickly find themselves under arrest.
The Queen’s guardian, Madam Preceptor (Gigi Leung, Sisterhood) is insistent that the men be executed and is worried that the Queen may have fallen in love. The Ancestor Queen had fallen in love and then was betrayed by a man which led to the creation of this land as well as the warning about the dangers of men. Despite the warnings, though, the Queen decides to help the monk and his disciples escape and find a way through the magical barrier that protects her kingdom from the outside world.
I’d seen the previous movie, The Monkey King 2, as well as another take on the story, Journey to the West: The Demon Strikes Back with Lin Gengxin as Sun Wukong, and enjoyed both, but I was disappointed by this sequel. Though you’re supposed to believe that the Xuanzang faces a dilemma choosing between his pilgrimage and living happily ever after with the Queen, there just wasn’t a lot of chemistry there. Zhao Liying’s emotions seemed much more sincere so it felt more like the Queen had a one-sided crush and that her prediction that men just make you fall in love with them, have babies and then ignore and leave you for another woman would come true.
The bulk of the movie is spent with the group trying to figure out the secret to leaving Womanland, which is interrupted when suddenly some of the guys find themselves pregnant from drinking enchanted water. As Wukong tries to find water in the Miscarriage Cave to help end the pregnancies, suddenly the movie changes to a PSA about aborted babies. (I’d just seen a special about the effects that the one child policy as well as the preference for boys over girls has had in China so I’m assuming that influenced this section of the movie.)
Given how Womanland was first introduced, I’d at first thought that Madam Protector was the bad guy and that the Ancestor Queen’s broken heart would turn out to be due to some plotting by the Protector. But we never get the full story on what happened to the past queen and it’s not until the last thirty minutes of this two hour movie that a villain finally appears, giving Wukong an opportunity to use his powers to fight the baddy before the monk brings out the big guns (aka prayers to Buddha) to help save the day.
There were some great comedic moments when the disciples meet women who are their equals and then try to escape execution, but ultimately there was very little tension and conflict, and it was easy to figure out how the story would ultimately resolve itself. The fight scenes are alright and the CGI okay, but nothing really striking or memorable.
If you really want to see this movie, I’d suggest waiting until you can watch it at home and watch the previous movies instead or wait for the Monkey King 3 TV series (which was licensed from this movie, but with a different cast including Bai Lu from “King Is Not Easy”).
A second trailer with most of the best scenes:
And some behind the scenes of filming. Yikes, the extras went through a lot!