Wu Kong, fourth movie in four years about legendary monkey, is a tired tale

Taiwanese hunk Eddie Peng puts a fun, goofy spin on his role; pity the bad script he has to work with.
Taiwanese hunk Eddie Peng puts a fun, goofy spin on his role; pity the bad script he has to work with.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION



121 minutes/Opens tomorrow/2/5 stars

The story: Sun Wu Kong (Eddie Peng) riles the Heavenly courts when he is discovered stealing food there. A fairy named Ah Zi (Ni Ni) falls for him, much to the chagrin of her childhood sweetheart Yang Jian (Shawn Yue) and the powerful Heavenly court general Hua Ji (Faye Yu).

Every other movie coming out of Hollywood these days is either a sequel or a reboot, and it seems that Chinese film-makers are also fast running out of original ideas.

This film is the fourth take on Sun Wu Kong, or the Monkey King, in as many years, after Huang Bo played the role in Stephen Chow's Journey To The West (2013), Donnie Yen in The Monkey King (2014) and Aaron Kwok in The Monkey King 2 (2016).

Taiwanese hunk Eddie Peng, 35, is the youngest of the lot to play the role and the casting is a natural fit, given the actor's sunny vibe and playful charm.

Save for the facial hair and the prosthetic mask he puts on towards the end of the film, his portrayal is the least monkey-like - he does away completely with the usual head-scratching and animal noises.

His version is more focused on the character's internal struggle of being constantly watched and controlled by more powerful forces.

The actor looks like he is having fun with the role as he goofily pranks his way through the Heavenly courts, but it is a pity that he has such a terrible script to work with. Based on Jin Hezai's Web novel Wukong Biography, this is described as a prequel to the classic 16th-century Journey To The West texts, which means that Wu Kong has yet to meet familiar characters such as Xuanzang, Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing for their famous mission to retrieve Buddhist scriptures.

Instead, this overstuffed tale has Wu Kong dealing with everything from a messy love triangle to serious identity issues.

No part of the story here makes any references to what viewers all know will come for the character later on.

As hard as writer-director Derek Kwok (Gallants, 2010) has tried here to re-introduce an iconic literary character to younger audiences, this is one origins story that is entirely unnecessary.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2017, with the headline 'Tired tale of a lively monkey'. Print Edition | Subscribe