A big part of my ‘research’ for Monkey the 2nd Incarnation is catching up on all the TV and Film versions directly inspired by the book. In many ways they are useful for finding ideas, especially from a visual context, on how to bring Monkey to the gaming table.
First of Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West Conquering Demons. Chow is firmly in directing chair, unlike Kung Fu Hustle/Shaolin Soccer which was also the lead actor, but it has the same brightly coloured Road Runner style of his other films. It’s comedic all the way, with occasional glimpses into a more profound themes that he is playing on. This is Chow’s take on the ‘origin’ story of Monkey and Co and the beginning of the Journey to the West. Instead of focusing on Monkey, the star of the show is Tripitaka the Hairy Monk who sports a large Robert Smith/Side Show Bob hair do and is the demon hunting disciple of a fat buddhist priest (who suspiciously looks like Bodai, the familiar fat or Laughing Buddha ). This is a major change from the canonical version of the Priest, who in the book is a middle-aged High Priest of the Tang Empire, and one that in context of the film works very well. Without giving too much away Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy are in their Demon forms, and Tripitaka must overcome them. Problem is he’s a young , soft and gentle but with an arrogant streak – obsessed with chasing the Demons as an expression of “Higher Love” and quite frankly incompetent at his job. He’s the comic fool/hero a reversal of his normal role as Straight man to Monkey’s shenanigans. It’s a great retelling of the origin tale, and makes it more dynamic as befits a kung-fu action film, without losing the essence of the reason why Monkey and Co are on their epic quest. It all falls into place by the end of the movie and you are ready to embark on the Journey to the West proper. The sequel is apparently coming in 2017.
Surprise! On first glance seems to be cut from the same cloth, a brightly coloured comedic alternative take on the Monkey story. But where Conquering Demons rewrites the Monkey story, while staying true to its spirit, Surprise! writes a new chapter of the story starting with the familiar characters and then adds twists and turns all over. While not up to the sheer cinematic genius of Conquering Demons, it’s an engaging joyous film and worth watching for any Monkey fan.