Review: Stephen Chow's JOURNEY TO THE WEST: CONQUERING THE DEMONS Dazzles, Frightens, and Still Tickles the Funny Bone

Frequently adapted for the big screen, the latest version of Journey to the West has quickly become one of the highest grossing films in China's box office history. That's not surprising, really, given the recent penchant for black comedy in cinema, combined with a classic tale and the legendary Stephen Chow at the helm. How could it fail?

The film is a prequel of sorts and follows do-gooder demon hunter Tang Sanzang (Wen Zhang) as he tries and fails to lull the evil out of the demons via a Buddha nursery rhyme book. Enter Bai Gu Jing (Shu Qi, in one of her best roles) a rough-and-ready but tired demon hunter who helps him out more times than one. Happenstance leads to her falling for him, but he denotes this sort of love seeking instead to attain higher understanding in Buddha's embrace. He travels to the five-finger mountain to meet the Monkey King (Huang Bo) and learn his secrets, but the Monkey King has another agenda entirely as Tang is put to the test and his faiths and beliefs questioned.

A simple story and essentially four fleshed-out set pieces comprise the bulk of Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. Basically, it's one demon dispatch after the other, but each scene is handled with so much energy and wit that the pacing can only be described as breathtaking, as there is literally not a dull moment. Stephen Chow's ingenious sense of comedic timing and witty banter carry the film strongly forward and this would normally be cause for a recommendation on its own, but Journey to the West is also technically dazzling.

It utilises 3D and visual effects so strongly that they become the narrative, imbuing each scene with purpose and distinction. These effects are the demons and Chow tries something he never properly has before. He actually crafts the film into a dark parable of humanity's latent evil as told through the demons' stories. What he depicts is scary at times, and he follows these horrific sentiments with razor sharp wit. Frankly, Chow has grown as a director -- though note that he is credited as co-director with Derek Kwok -- and this is a striking comparison to his last, child-friendly Chinese E.T, the CGI-fest CJ7, a very average and doting film.

Chow does not actually appear in Journey to the West; a first for him on directing duties, but he essentially instills every other actor on-set with his method and it works brilliantly, from the affable Wen Zhang to the sultry and half-crazed turn from Shu Qi and of course the wicked Huang Bo as the Monkey King. All of the supporting cast exchange inane banter and well delivered lines that time perfectly with what is happening, something you'd be remiss for not noticing in every Stephen Chow performance. His career as a director has spanned many years, but in taking himself out of this film, Chow has confirmed he is a truly amazing talent and a huge influence on comedy in general.

Journey to the West is such a sublime crowdpleaser, despite the fact that it shifts into dark and scary modes. going places blockbusters do not dare to go, with all guns blazing. The comedy here is for all tastes and the majority of the film will be appreciated overseas. Do not miss this undeniably fun and striking adventure-comedy masterwork!


Journey to the West is playing in selected cinemas in Australia, thanks to Dream Movie Australia (DMA).

Around the Internet:
  • Howard

    Just caught this on netflix. Despite the typically poor chinese CGI, this was way better than that Detective Dee prequel! Stephen Chow is one talented mofo.

  • peter parker

    Loved it, Shu Qi looked great and we was treated to the very missed Chow nuttiness but WHY not in 3D stephen? WHY!!!!! Monkey kign was awful beyond words and that was...dammit.

  • Alexander

    i really really wished they have ended things differently

  • Ric

    Problem with the movie in my opinion is that it tried to be a jack of all trades but master of none. It was scary and thrilling in bits but can't be called a horror, average cgi, dramatic at times and clever but is essentially a slapstick comedy so does it all fit? I don't think so, That's not to say it's bad, as I did laugh out loud to one of the scenes and it was quite clever near the end

  • Dream Movie Australia

    Those who live in the west the movie "Journey to the West" is now showing at Hoyts Carousel cinemas!

  • PeterKapow

    High expectations will hurt this perfectly serviceable, but mostly disposable flick. There are a few great set-pieces and some funny gags, but its aesthetically pretty ugly and chock full of mostly unremarkable CG. It might please those disappointed with CJ7's kid-friendliness, but its nonetheless still a minor Chow, despite its major ambition.

  • BongCastaneda

    I agree, its pretty typical of a run of the mill Chinese fantasy film, and as you said pretty disposable.

  • kD

    It was amazing movie! complete entertainment and revival of the Journey to the west story. A must see movie! See it as soon as possible!

  • hutch

    How?! Tell me how! I live in the West.

  • hutch

    Any hint of a Western release for 'Journey to the WEST'? (wah wah waaaah)

    p.s.
    CJ7 was really good and mature.

  • hutch

    This is VERY good news to hear. Thanks, Twitch!

  • I'm very happy to hear so many good things about this movie...it's been a long time since Chow's last movie and I'm really expecting this one!

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