By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
I suspect the reason why Jackie Chan is in the English dub of Monkey King: The Hero is Back is because he played the Monkey in the Kung Fu Panda movies. To have him play a similar role helps. Although Sun Wukong‘s (孙悟空) personality is a lot more conceited, this hero is respected throughout China. He’s kind of like Lucifer in the sense he’s rebellious. Just like the Morningstar, the reason he was cast out of Heaven by Buddha is because of his rambunctiousness; however, he has a chance at redemption. A handful of novels and legends chronicles various parts of Wukong’s life at becoming a champion for good.
After this film’s critical success in China last year, I wondered when this movie will make the ‘Journey to the West’ to reach English-speaking audiences. He’s expected to arrive at select cinemas July 28, 2016, and hitting video shelves August 30th.
In what I’ve seen in the original product, this film is sure to tickle the funny bone, delight in watching Monkey’s kinetic action and amaze in the cinematography only a drone camera can produce. technically the kid Jiang Liuer (played by Lin Zijie) is a scene stealer. Not only does he worship the exiled monkey, he shows how much of a pest Wukong was to Buddha. This role reversal is at the heart of him becoming more of a positive role model instead of a character to revile. After Monkey tries to figure out what to do after getting accidentally released from his mountain imprisonment, both he and the young monk become an unlikely pair. And they are joined by other cosmic figures as Liuer tries to find his way back home. Oddly enough, he’s too starstruck to care about returning the baby he rescued to her parents.
Just like other recent retellings, the story looks at how Wukong can regain his status in heaven. In the dub which I’ll definitely go see, I’m hoping the cast will recapture the same magic as the original. I like to see Kannon Kurowski recapture Zijie’s exuberance. Veteran actor James Hong will be voicing the old monk looking for his missing disciple. After he and Liuer have an encounter with mountain trolls who are kidnapping babies, they get separated and while one seeks the other out, the youthful monk hopes to idolise a figure who is hardly a hero.
This retelling of the Monkey King legend is wonderfully stylish and silly. The production is designed to appeal to youths and the bit of toilet humour is not without some chuckles. Not many animations I own get repeat viewings often, and for Monkey King, I can watch this latest reimagining regularly and not get tired of the characters at all.
The production and narrative quality in this film are easily on par with what PIXAR can make. This tale is as enduring as Finding Nemo because of the sweet innocence this kid exudes. Hopefully, the release will not be a limited one. Tsui Hark‘s animated remake of A Chinese Ghost Story was difficult to track down during a decade when the Internet was making roads to public access. When this film was first reported in an animation magazine, I had to wait for Viz Media to release it to DVD in North America. Fortunately, to track down Monkey King: The Hero is Back was not as hard. It was as easy as searching for it on eBay (or waiting for Cinedigm’s DVD release).
4 Stars out of 5