Monkey King scores some laughs

Aaron Kwok (left) and William Feng in The Monkey King 3.
Aaron Kwok (left) and William Feng in The Monkey King 3.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

REVIEW / FANTASY

THE MONKEY KING 3 (PG)

116 minutes/Opens today/ 3 stars

The story: Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang (William Feng) continues on his pilgrimage to the West to collect scriptures with his disciples/protectors monkey king Sun Wukong (Aaron Kwok), pig demon Zhu Bajie (Xiaoshenyang) and Sandy Sha Wujing (Him Law). They accidentally enter the all-female realm of Western Liang, where they meet an innocent queen (Zhao Liying) and a ruthless adviser (an unrecognisable Gigi Leung).

This is Hong Kong director Soi Cheang's third Monkey King after the 2014 and 2016 instalments and it sits between the two in terms of quality.

The first one had underwhelming computer-generated imagery (CGI) while the second had the advantage of a resplendent Gong Li as a silky White-Boned Demon.

Movie No. 3 has a promising premise which upends the chauvinism of traditional Chinese society. Western Liang is peopled entirely by women from the ruling class to the warriors, a land where men are deemed to be venomous and have to be killed. Though to the lascivious Bajie, the place seems like paradise at first.

The CGI is decent, especially in the rendering of a giant deer that the queen rides and can stand upright on. And the finale seems designed to be a showcase for water effects as Wukong and gang take on a river god who has turned vengeful because of a thwarted love.

The cast members are comfortable in their roles and popular Chinese actor Xiaoshenyang scores some laughs with his die-hard lechery and piggish behaviour.

A pity then that there are a couple of missteps here.

The story is stretched too thin in order to fill two hours. Worse, a missing scrap of ancient parchment is given a high-pitched cutesy voice and an annoying personality to match as it plays a game of hide-and-seek with its pursuers. Cheang seems to be cashing in on the popularity of the fantasy film Monster Hunt (2015), which incidentally has a sequel out now.

Inexplicably, there is also a contemporary-sounding pop duet by Jane Zhang and Li Ronghao that takes one out of the movie. It should have been kept for the end credits instead of shoved into scenes between Tang and the queen.

The more audacious and enjoyable adaptation of Wu Chengen's Ming Dynasty literary classic, Journey To The West, is actually the ongoing K-drama A Korean Odyssey with Tang now a woman and pig demon Bajie a popular idol.

But with Tang and his followers supposedly encountering 81 predicaments in the novel, there is no lack of material for Cheang. Already, Fire Mountain looms at the end of part three.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2018, with the headline 'Monkey King scores some laughs'. Print Edition | Subscribe