His name is Sun Wukong. He is better known as
the Monkey King and he means business. Unfortunately, nobody else does. When he
loses his powers through a wacky chain of events and his loser companions are
magically trapped, Stone Ox village will have to rely on the over-confident but
underachieving Wang Dachui, who always finds ways to misuse the thimble full of
magical powers he possesses. Journey to
the West takes a detour through Zucker Brothers territory in Surprise (trailer
here), which is now playing in New York.
Technically, Stone Ox village already has a
mystical protector, but “Mr.” Murong has not been himself lately. The supernaturally
imprisoned evil force his descendants swore to maintain watch over has really
been giving him the full court temptation press. Wang Dachui, a sort of wuxia
analog of the popular Chinese webisode slacker, thinks he is the man, but he is no match for the cat
demon looking to plunder the village’s secret weapon. Fortunately, Murong saves
his bacon, but the ensuing battle greatly weakens the guardian, leaving Stone
Ox vulnerable as a result.
Feeling unappreciated, Wang decides it might
be best to get out of Dodge for a while. He temporarily hooks up with the Monkey
King, who has been separated from his colleagues: the monk, Tang Seng (a.k.a.
Xuanzang), Zhu “Pigsy” Bajie, and Sha “Sandman” Wujing. Sun is now mostly
mortal, but he still has considerable anger management issues and a wicked
facility with the quarter staff. However, he is no match for the temper of Su Xiaomei,
the rice cake vendor, who reluctantly employed Wang as a delivery boy.
Nevertheless, the clumsy would-be-hero will return to Stone Ox to save her from
the dark whatever it is that is up to no good (frankly, it is never very clear,
but it is definitely bad news).
Whether as director, screenwriter, or co-star
(appearing as Sandman), Yi is never intimidated by broad, over-the-top humor.
This will be “Chinese humor” an audience member warned me before the screening—and
she was right. Yi and rubber-faced star Ke Bai have no time for subtlety or
sophisticated word play. On the other hand, few comedies can boast so many
earth-shaking cataclysms, aside from Stephen Chow & Derek Kwok’s Journey to the West. Funny how that
Ke Bai certainly has no reservations when it
comes to realizing the humiliations meted out on Wang. He takes a pasting and
keeps on preening. As Su, Yang Zishan (recognizable from So Young and 20 Once Again)
probably gets biggest, most exportable laughs cutting Wang down to size. Liuxun
Zimo also makes a surprisingly credible action figure as the Monkey King. In
fact, there are some pretty respectably choreographed action sequences,
especially those involving the cat demon.
Although it is a
goofball comedy, Surprise brings
plenty of cosmic chaos. If there is another special effects spectacular opening
this weekend, they have sure kept it quiet, so fantasy buffs really ought to
consider checking out the exploits of Wang Dachui and the Monkey King. It has
its charms, like watching the Three Stooges running amok through The Lord of the Rings. Recommended for
fans of screwball genre films, Surprise is
now playing in New York at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Journey to the West, Mash-Ups, Yang Zishan