The third instalment of the MONKEY KING films, THE MONKEY KING (2014) and THE MONKEY KING 2 (2016), number 3 arrives just in time for Chinese New Year opening on the first day of the lunar New Year. Chinese film goers are always promised a good blockbuster commercial film treat yearly, and THE MNKY KING 3 is one of the big Chinese films opening that should guarantee good box-office receipts.
Like the other two films, this is an adventure fantasy film based on the classic novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. All three are directed by Cheang Pou-soi and all three stars Aaron Kwok, though only the last two with him playing the title role.
The first film had Donny Yen and the second Sammo Hung as the fight choreographers. This one has none credited as this instalment takes the franchise on a different route. Romance replaces fights. The only fights are against monsters. The Buddhist Monk Xuanzan (Willija Fend Shaofeng) meets his match romantically.
The story involves Buddhist monk Xuanzang and his disciples – Wukong the Monkey King (Aaron Kwok Fu-shing), pig demon Bajie (Xiao Shenyang) and the blue-skinned sand demon Wujing (Him Lo Chung-him) – inadvertently entering the Womanland of Western Liang, a nation populated by women raised to believe that men are fatally deceptive in matters of the heart. Love nevertheless blossoms between Xuanzang and the Womanland’s young queen (Zhao Liying), even though her royal preceptor (Gigi Leung Wing-kei) is hell-bent on sentencing the men to death. As Wukong and friends search for a way out of this nation surrounded by a vast magical net, it soon transpires, conveniently, that romantic love is the only key to opening the gate. So the magic question is whether Xuanzang will give up on his sacred mission and stay with the queen.
The magic net is an excuse for some of the film’s special effects – cheesy though the results turned out. Monk and gang also get to fly up into the sky with the huge moon in the background.
The film is a take on Amazon Women. As in similar films tackling this subject, they fall into into identical traps. The foremost is credibility. Thee is no explanation on how these females reproduce themselves. The impregnating river is a laugh. When the males arrive, they are again initially treated with hostility, but that is made way to love (and maybe sex, if the film is more daring).
The humour that largely replaces the action could have been funnier or insightful. The segment on abortion (called miscarriage in the film) is nothing short of ridiculousness. There is a scene where the two main characters talk about their shortcomings. The main one is is monk’s sexual abdication, but like the film, he cannot bring himself to talk about it.
As hard and well-intentioned though the efforts may be by the filmmakers and cast, MONKEY KING 3 ends up a flawed but handsomely mounted production with gorgeous costumes, elaborate sets and landscape, colour and special effects. Undemanding families out for a good Lunar New Year outing, however should be satisfied.