Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons 西遊·降魔篇 (2013) – Hong Kong / China

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 8th February 2013
Releasing in cinemas in Hong Kong, 7th February 2013

Directed by: Stephen Chow, Derek Kok
Starring: Shu Qi, Wen Zhang, Huang Bo, Show Luo, Chrissie Chau

Hong Kong Box Office: HK$28,242,534

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Stephen Chow latest revisit to “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons” is a highly entertaining affair. From the get go, the audience is treated with Chow famed exaggerated style of comedy. Even without Chow’s physical presence, the film worked and the result is a wonderful balance of a film. The film is every bit creative and is most likely Chow’s best effort since “Kung Fu Hustle”. What we get to see in this film is Chow’s ongoing maturity as a film-maker and most likely one of few that can strike the right balance of comedy in both the Hong Kong and Mainland China market.

In casting the experienced Shu Qi, Chow have got himself another Karen Mok (a frequent former corroborator in Chow’s 90′s hits). Female actresses in Chow films are never straight forward as often requires more than just meeting the eye. Comic timing is crucial and Qi seems to have to have nail the role with winning charisma. Mainland actor Wen Zhang took on the big shoe in replacing a role made for Stephen Chow. Wen Zhang has a instant identifiable screen presence that underline both his vulnerability and likable personality that made Chow so appealing. Although his role is hammered by some average Cantonese voice dubbing, Wen Zhang flairs better than most and even manages to throw in some acting chops. I thought that Shu Qi and Wen Zhang together projects a rather effective chemistry and plays off one another quite well. Huang Bo is simply excellent and scene stealing in the edgy and tricky character of Monkey King, while Taiwanese Show Luo and Chrissie Chau appears in short stints, without much effect.

The story of the monkey king has been rebooted hundreds of time, but Chow still manages to surprise from a new and exciting angle. The opening scene sets the tone with an exhilarating start that is both engaging, hilarious, touching and surprisingly dark.

As with most Chow films, a balance of exaggerated comedy, wordplay, drama and emotions are all crucial ingredients that makes his films so universally successful. After the mishap of “CJ7″, Chow presents a film that is visually stunning and like Tsui Hark remains the only two Hong Kong film-makers that made the most of 3D technology to enhance the cinematic experience. In fact, it is one of those films where you want to keep watching to see what’s next on Chow bag full of tricks.

All in all, Journey to the West is a perfect example of how to balance the needs of both Mainland and Cantonese market, while not entirely losing the Hong Kong unique flavour. Sure the film suffers due to it being filmed in Mandarin and therefore some of Chow usual Cantonese wordplay gets lost in translation. Still, there is a lot to enjoy, reminisce and even to laugh at in the latest Chow masterpiece. 2012 has been a major disappointment in terms of quality Hong Kong cinema and if this film is to set a benchmark for films in 2013, we are in for a great year. It also shows that there may be life yet, if eventually Chow decides to stop gracing our screens, as he is every bit competent and maturing well behind the camera. It may not be Chow best film, but in terms of universal entertainment, its really hard to beat. Lets hope that it doesn’t take Chow another 5 years for his next venture, but with his political ambitions, we might as well enjoy this while it last. With “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons”, one thing is certain, Stephen Chow remains the unofficial comic genius that still have a lot to offer. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 9/10

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