Movie review: Journey To The West 2 shows Stephen Chow has not lost his touch

The cast of Journey To The West: The Demons Strike Back includes (from left) Yang Yiwei as Piggy, Lin Gengxin as Monkey and Kris Wu as Tang Sanzang.
The cast of Journey To The West: The Demons Strike Back includes (from left) Yang Yiwei as Piggy, Lin Gengxin as Monkey and Kris Wu as Tang Sanzang.PHOTO: SONY PICTURES

Tale about monk Tang Sanzang and his disciples is made entertaining with the inventive use of CGI

REVIEW / FANTASY

JOURNEY TO THE WEST: THE DEMONS STRIKE BACK (PG)

109 minutes/Now showing/3/5 stars

The story: The monk Tang Sanzang (Kris Wu) is on a journey to India to obtain sutras. He is accompanied by three disciples - Monkey (Lin Gengxin), Piggy (Yang Yiwei) and Sandy (Mengke Bateer). Along the way, they encounter a nest of vicious spider demons, a petulant king (Bao Bei-er) and his minister (Yao Chen), who has a dangerous belief in doing as he pleases.

This is billed as the sequel to Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons (2013), but there are actually quite a few changes from the earlier film.

Hong Kong's Stephen Chow only writes and produces here, and leaves the directing to Tsui Hark (Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame, 2010) instead.

The tone of the film is a tad less silly, but there are still comic elements that are signature Chow, such as the exaggeratedly drooly Piggy and old women who are supposed to be exhausted 16-year-olds.

More jarring is the overhauled cast.

Idol singer-actor Kris Wu makes for a better-looking Tang, but Wen Zhang was more affecting in the earlier film. Monkey, Piggy and Sandy are also played by different actors, though the impact is less marked in their case as their faces are hidden under heavy make-up.

The source material - the classic Chinese novel Journey To The West - merely serves as inspiration here and the film-makers take lots of liberty with the story.

That is not necessarily a bad thing, though Tang behaves in a rather inconsistent manner, particularly in his relationship with Monkey.

What makes the film entertaining is the inventive use of computer- generated imagery (CGI).

Tsui piles on the effects and, more importantly, lets his imagination run riot in conjuring up landscapes, creatures and battles.

There is a forest of deformed and menacing trees, a crazily colourful kingdom run by a child-like monarch and an epic showdown involving four buddhas, a giant Monkey and a demon who looks like a mechanical toy. Oh, and a poisoned Sandy gets transformed into a giant fish the gang have to lug around and keep wet.

There is a wild and joyous abandon to the film-making that calls to mind Tsui's early work, Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain (1983), which memorably featured flying stone elephants. He has not lost his touch when it comes to making fantasy take flight.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'Fun, fantastical journey for motley crew'. Print Edition | Subscribe