With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

THE MONKEY KING 2 reviewed; debuts on Blu-ray & DVD today

Well Go USA
The Monkey King 2 / Xi you ji zhi: Sun Wukong san da Baigu Jing
Directed by Soi Cheang
China/Hong Kong, 2016, 120 minutes

Soi Cheang's telling of the famous Chinese story of the Monkey King continues with Well Go USA Entertainment's release of The Monkey King 2 on Blu-ray™ and DVD today, Tuesday, January 3rd. This review is based on my watching the Blu-ray version.

The Monkey King 2 is the sequel to The Monkey King, the 2014 film that was also directed by Soi Cheang. (Both were filmed in 3D; the Blu-ray and DVD releases of the sequel are in 2D only.) The original film (also known as The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven's Palace) starred Donnie Yen, who also served as the film's action director, as the titular protagonist. In The Monkey King 2, Aaron Kwok plays Sun Wukong, a.k.a. the Monkey King. The legendary Sammo Hung assumed duties as action director.

Zhu Baijie, The Monkey King, and Sha Wujing

The series is based on The Journey to the West, a major classic of Chinese literature consisting of one hundred chapters. It tells the tale of a Chinese monk named Xuanzang (also known as The Scripture Fetcher and as The Tang Priest) who is selected by The Mercy Goddess to undertake an arduous and dangerous journey to the West (i.e., to India) to get holy scriptures from the Buddha. He is accompanied and protected by the Monkey King, who is really the main character, and two others. For some time I have owned the first volume of the four volume set translated and edited by Anthony C. Yu. Earlier this year, I finally got around to reading it. The Money King 2 is concerned with portions of the latter part of that twenty-five chapter volume.

The original film ended with the mischievous Monkey King, who has achieved mystical powers and wrecked havoc in Heaven, being imprisoned within Five Finger Mountain for five hundred years. The Monkey King 2 begins with Xuanzang, who is being attacked by a dragon, freeing him from the mountain. Once the Money King has dealt with the dragon, the pair begin their journey and are soon joined by Zhu Baijie (Xiao Shen Yang, The Grandmaster), a pig-man who can transform into either a handsome youth or a wild boar, and Bro Sha Wujing, a mighty blue-skinned warrior. The main protagonist is White Bone Spirit (the always lovely and wonderful Gong Li), also called Lady White. She wants to devour the monk (that is, absorb his essence, not actually eat him physically) so she can become an immortal demon.

White Bone Spirit

Disc Specs:
-- Audio
   -- Cantonese Dolby ATMOS in true HD
   -- Cantonese 20 Stereo
   -- Mandarin 5.1 DTS HDMA
   -- Mandarin 2.0 Stereo
-- Subtitles
   -- English
   -- Chinese
   -- Off
--Bonus Materials:
   -- A Five-part “Making of” Featurette
      -- The Monkey King
      -- The Monk
      -- Bajie
      -- Wujing
      -- A New World
   -- The Monkey King 2 Trailer
   -- Previews (of other Well Go USA releases)
      -- Railroad Tigers
      -- Cold War 2
      -- Call of Heroes

Back in February of this year, The Monkey King 2 enjoyed a limited theatrical release in the U.S. I did not get to see that version but did watch a 2D online screener of the film. I was fairly impressed with it at that time. Having now seen Well Go USA's gorgeous Blu-ray version, I am even more blown away by the film. The make-up, costumes and special effects are spectacular, as are the action sequences.

Before writing this review I noticed that the first film in the series was available on Netflix Streaming. I watched it and thought it was pretty good, decent but by no means spectacular. The Monkey King 2 is superior in almost every way. While I have nothing but high regard for Donnie Yen, I found Aaron Kwok's depiction of Sun Wukong clearly superior.

AsianCineFest Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; very, very highly recommended.

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