Saturday, March 15, 2014

Journey To The West Review

Journey To The West Review
When you sit down to watch a movie by Stephen Chow, you are going to see something unlike anything you have ever seen before. Sounds silly and cliche, but it is the honest truth. Not every filmmaker is that gifted, not every filmmaker is that creative behind the camera to make unforgettable fever dreams every single time they sit down to make a movie. Refer to Chow's "Shaolin Soccer" in 2001 and "Kung-Fu Hustle" in 2005, those films are beyond description. I think the same can be said about "Journey To The West," Chow's latest film and a comedic reinterpretation of a Chinese literacy classic of the same name. Many of Chow's fetishes are on display here, and there is a ride to be had just as wild as anything Chow has ever done in the past.

That is clearly evident within the opening moments of the movie. We are taken to small village somewhere in 1500's China. Everything seems peaceful; go about their day, a father comforts his young child. The father talks about demons in the water and plays a nasty joke on his daughter. After cheering her up, he begins to wail in the water and soon blood starts gushing out of him. There is something in the water, something that is thirsty for blood. After a brief funeral scene, a Tang Sanzang (Wen Zhang) appears and advises that the demon will kill again, and sure enough it does. Then we are off onto a huge scene as the villagers fight off a huge fish that looks like a cross between a tiger and statue of an ancient Asian demon. The scene is both humorous, stylish and somehow intense all at once. After Sanzang brings down the fish demon, he must do battle with two other demons who threaten the village.

Its pretty clear that Stephen Chow grew up watching kung-fu movies. How he pays homage to the genre is half the fun of watching "Journey To The West." The kung-fu parallels are absolutely captivating to behold. Its makes his movie that much fun as well. I also find it rather remarkable how well Chow is able to blend humor into his movies. Flying golden rings, demons with pig heads and a book of nursery rhymes are some of the elements involved in the movie, and Chow is able to make everything feel relevant and make everything matter without getting too goofy. Although, I will warn, this movie is quite goofy. All of Stephen Chow's films so far are pretty goofy, but through it all, he's able to tell a great story.

Wen Zhang carries the movie and his performance as Sanzang is both funny and unexpectedly emotional. Another chief character who Sanzang happens upon is Miss Duan played by Shu Qi. Miss Duan gets involved in the movie once Sanzang tries to save a couple of the nasty pig demon. She's got weapons that are going to make you say cool and a style that will force you to instantly root for her. Qi and Zhang exhibit great chemistry onscreen and create an unforgettable team. 

The visual effects in the movie are a little cartoonish, but I think that was the effect Chow was going for. Chow is a director who knows his movies don't take place in any sort of sane reality and he likes it that way. Out of the three movies of his that I have seen, I have to say that this movie had the worst pacing. It seemed that certain scenes go on and on to no prevail but heap on more style. I am not saying I don't like style but sometimes it can go a long way. The pacing doesn't kill the experience for me, but its definitely something that sticks out. Still, there is so much fun to be had with "Journey To The West" that I eventually lived with it and its something I may not even notice after repeat viewings.

If you have any appreciation for the work of Stephen Chow or if you have any appreciation for foreign cinema at all, check out "Journey To The West." Its not all the time we get a great representation of humor fused with action-packed excitement, but it seems like second nature to Chow. I hope his career keeps getting better and better from this point.

FINAL GRADE: B+

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