‘The Monkey King’ sequel leaps ahead of original

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-24 17:38:01


Promotional materials for The Monkey King 2 Photos: CFP

While audiences may love watching Hollywood superheroes save the world in their films, for audiences outside the US it sometimes feels like these groups are also dominating the world with American culture and ideals along the way. Now it seems the tables are about to be turned as upcoming Hong Kong fantasy action blockbuster The Monkey King 2 is set to follow in the footsteps of a number of Hollywood superhero films.

Having seen the film at a press preview, The Monkey King 2, in my opinion, is a film that has been tailored not only for the Chinese market, but also for the Southeast Asian, European and North American markets as well. 

Commercial blockbuster

Set to release on February 8, the first day of the Chinese New Year, the commercial ambitions of this film are obvious. A glance at its lead characters - actress Gong Li and actors Aaron Kwok, Feng Shaofeng, and Xiaoshenyang - reveals that each one seems to be targeting a different audience.

Beyond a doubt, the younger actors Feng and Xiaoshenyang  have the biggest appeal among Chinese audiences, especially the 20-35 age group. Additionally, Feng may now carry a certain amount of recognition in Europe and North America after appearing in renowned French director Jean Jacques Annaud's Wolf Totem last year.

Veteran actress Gong, on the other hand, is one of the most well-known Chinese stars in Europe and North America. Her early roles in films like Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Farewell My Concubine (1993), and To Live (1994) brought her a number of awards in the West. Singer, dancer and actor Aaron Kwok, however, has a lot of fans in Cantonese-speaking areas, including many Southeast Asian counties. Also, both Gong and Kwok are idols for older audiences. Seeing as how The Monkey King 2 has set itself up as a family film for the Chinese Spring Festival, the combination of such star power is sure to click with the different age groups in a family.

In addition to choosing appealing actors, the images of some of the characters have been Westernized. Though I'm not personally in favor of this move, obviously the producer of the film wants these characters to feel familiar to Western audiences.

White Bone Spirit, the major villain played by Gong, for example, reminds me of Angelina Jolie's role in Maleficent (2014). Even the villain's background story, which has not been touched upon previously, is very close to that seen in Maleficent: An innocent young woman  driven to evil after being harmed by others.

Also, the newly added King character in the film seems to have come from The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, while the Monkey King's struggle between freedom and the Buddhist faith is a very modern and Western idea as well.

A step up

As seen from the title, The Monkey King 2 is the second film in The Monkey King franchise. While the first film, released in 2014, received low reviews (5.2/10 on Chinese movie site mtime.com), the new work seems to be an improvement when it comes to story and CG visual effects.

The story of the Monkey King is one that has been done to death in numerous mediums in China. Therefore, making this classic story interesting again is a major bottleneck that faces any studio that wants to adapt Journey to the West.

The 1994 Hong Kong film A Chinese Odyssey and 1995's A Chinese Odyssey Part Two: Cinderella were very popular for their bold take on this ancient story. Yet debate as to whether the films violated the original ideas in the story still rage on today.

The Monkey King: Hero is Back, the record-breaking animated film from last year, and its departure from the source material is a great example of revitalizing a classic. This adherence to the original was one of the major flaws of 2014's The Monkey King as most people in the audience knew what was going to happen next as the film progressed. 

When it comes to paving new paths, The Monkey King 2 surpasses its predecessor, but is still not as successful in this area as Hero is Back.

Bringing the laughter is a key part of any family film's success. Again this is an area where the first film failed. However, The Monkey King 2 does a fine job of achieving this goal. I still remember when I first watched The Monkey King, the story didn't resonate with me because all the funny parts came across as too forced and uninteresting. However, this time, the delivery of the jokes comes across as much more natural and well-timed.

Story aside, the special effect for The Monkey King 2 live up to expectations, even though a later scene in which thousands of skeletons rise from the earth made me think I was watching The Walking Dead or some other US zombie film. The special effects in The Monkey King were criticized by netizens as coming across as cheap, but this time moviegoers are sure to feel the ticket price worth it if they decide to splurge to see the film in 3D IMAX.

For audiences overseas that don't know the story of the classic novel Journey to the West, the film probably makes for a great fantasy adventure that can provide a bit of knowledge about this Chinese classic. Since the Monkey King and Journey to the West are as famous among Chinese as Star Wars is among Americans, The Monkey King 2 is sure to provide overseas audiences with something to talk about during the coming Year of the Monkey.

Also, if you are looking for something fun the whole family can enjoy, The Monkey King 2 is a good choice although the film contains certain bloody and frightening scenes, which may make younger kids feel uncomfortable.

Newspaper headline: Journey to the world

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