‘Journey to the West’: Into a zany world of demon hunters
A movie review of “Journey to the West,” a cartoonish comedy directed by Hong Kong star Stephen Chow, who uses computer animation to energize this story of demon hunters and the monsters they seek.
The New York Times
‘Journey to the West,’ with Shu Qi, Wen Zhang. Directed by Stephen Chow, from a screenplay by Chow, Derek Kwok, Huo Xin, Wang Yun, Fung Chih Chiang, Lu Zheng Yu, Lee Sheung Ching and Ivy Kong. 110 minutes. Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence, including bloody images, some antic sexual content and partial nudity. Grand Illusion, through Thursday.
The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
One rule of comedy is to make it big. Instead of a single pie to the face, try a fusillade and a slippery shoving match. Rather than a couple of anchormen trading insults, why not a street fight? And when it comes to a battle royal, you really can’t top Buddha for administering a beat down.
That final example comes from a memorable climactic battle in “Journey to the West,” the latest, buoyantly cartoonish comedy from Hong Kong star Stephen Chow. Returning to the same 16th-century adventure that fueled “A Chinese Odyssey,” which 20 years ago featured this multitalented comedian as the Monkey King, Chow energizes his new film with computer animation that, when the timing’s right, brings a playfully elastic sense of scale.
There’s ample opportunity for pixel-aided fantasy, since this episodic movie rolls along in a world of demon hunters and the monsters they seek. The mop-haired Xuan Zang (Wen Zhang) is our ostensible hero, a meek Buddhist acolyte with an unshakable dedication to the straight and narrow, and, bafflingly, a book of nursery rhymes for a guide. But it’s actually a tomboyish huntress, Miss Duan (Shu Qi, nimble and winning), who does most of the vanquishing and who saves his bacon in a gruesome restaurant run by a treacherous, shape-shifting boar demon known as KL Hogg.
The film is a tumbling series of adventures in which the spiritually evolving Xuan Zang is swept up with Miss Duan and her crew and swiftly becomes the object of her clumsy courtship. The restaurant scene is but one of many rollicking sequences with a focused sense of excess and a fairy-tale edge of menace.
A veteran comedic auteur (“Kung Fu Hustle,” “Shaolin Soccer”), Chow stays behind the camera, deploying comic and visual invention — from a supernaturally capacious bag for holding outsize demons to a tentacled sea monster gobbling wide-eyed villagers off docks and assorted rigging.
This isn’t all executed with clean, skintight computer animation, mind you: Miss Duan, for example, flings infinite golden attack rings like a video-game character and busts up baddies into clouds of rather chunky dust.
Chow has perhaps achieved more sustained and elaborate adventures, but he hits a sweet spot of comedy that never grows too self-aware or forgets the value of a good, clean demon whomping.