Directed by Stephen Chow and Derek Kwok
Produced by Stephen Chow and Wang Zhonglei
Written by Stephen Chow,Derek Kwok,Xin Huo,Yun Wang,Fung, Chih Chiang,Lu Zheng Yu, Lee Sheung Shing, and Y.Y. Kong
Cast: Wen Zhang, Shu Qi, Huang Bo, Show Luo, Lee Sheung-Ching, Chen Bing-Qiang, Cheng Si-Han, Xing Yu, Lu Zheng-Yu, Chiu Chi-Ling, Yang Di, and Chrissie Chau
The origin story of the famous monk Tang Sanzang before he embarked in his famous journey that was told in the famous novel: Journey to the West.
Stephen Chow over the years has been less active onscreen but this departure has meant that Stephen Chow has taken the seat of the director more often. There are few directors in China( maybe, in the whole of East Asia) that can blend CGI with wacky comedy so well. Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer being evident of this. Journey to the West has been the target of countless media adaptations, and Stephen Chow, himself has starred in one or two.
Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons also could be called Journey to the West: Conquering Personal Demons. Although it’s a feel-good silly adventure, Stephen Chow’s directorial effort does makes a heartfelt attempt at linking its silly adventure to serious Buddhist theological themes. The permeating theme being Xuan Zang’s personal search for greater love. Which renders this central love story from a mere romantic comedy with mythical trappings but to one that is steep in the mythicalness of its subject material.
Xuan Zang is not the usual arrogant smart alec that Stephen Chow would usually play. Xuan Zang is a surprisingly endearing for a rookie who spends half of his time being frustrated. He is probably endearing because Xuan Zang has a moral impeccability to him while being somehow emotionally vulnerable. Miss Duan is the spunky action girl that’s more dominant of the pair. Miss Duan’s dominance is not overbearing since she knows how to be lively, and quite the yearnful type.
It’s easy to write off this film as being solely a light-hearted action comedy that only excels in some inventive gags. Also, the initial setpiece is bound to grab your attention. The structure of the plot only adds to this assumption since it flows through a series of comedic setpieces. However, a more astute viewer will realize not only is the narrative laying the groundwork for the journey that will take place in Journey to the West, but also establishes how Xuan Zang became a paradigm of virtue, or as Xuan Zang’s master repeatedly says finding that little ”Something”. While it might be hard to believe at first, all of this slapstick and gags is put in service of some pretty great character development by the end.
CGI outside of Hollywood always tend to leave a lot to be desired. Sadly, it’s subpar here as well though it’s hardly too bothersome because other aspects of the production design are in top order. The plot kind of falls apart by the third act which introduces the infamous Monkey King. The third act feels rushed due to the way how quickly the events transpire, and the Monkey King antics come in the way of screen time that could be been used to flesh out Xuan Zang and Miss Duan’s relationship even more. The CGI ridden final fight is still fun as a visual treat and symbolizes something of particular importance.
Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is undoubtedly fun because it should be guilty of making demon hunting more fun ever could be. There is a certain tendency to label all action comedies as just frivolous fun. The humor and fun isn’t pursued for its own sake. Instead, it conveys a great truth about reaching religious enlightenment while falling in love. The two might not be self-contradictory. Needless to say, the humor doesn’t shy away from dark connotations if the situation calls for it.
Stephen Chow’s silly spiritual adventure about a certain monk’s rise to greatness is delightfully tender and a source of great laughs. All wrapped up in a great framework of comic fantasy that comes joyfully to life.