In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”



Originally published on April 7, 1967.Georges Lautner's "Galia" opens and closes with arty shots of the ocean, mother of us all, but in between it's…

Other Reviews
Review Archives

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…


Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives


Journey to the West

Journey to the West Movie Review

By turns daffy and dazzling, awkward and artful, "Journey to the West" takes an ancient tale and gives it contemporary flair.

In adapting one of the Four Great Classical Novels of 16th-century Chinese literature, co-directors Stephen Chow and Derek Kwok have crafted a rollicking fantasy—a crazy fable that ultimately reaffirms the power of faith. Their giant martial-arts set pieces are nothing short of extraordinary; lively and lovely, they're filled with both great intricacy and innovation.

These scenes, which can be both wildly slapsticky and minutely graceful, provide the film with a winning, driving energy. And then when they're over, the characters unfortunately have to talk.

"Journey to the West" follows a goofy but sincere Buddhist monk named Xuan Zang (Zhang Wen), a young demon hunter who must vanquish a series of foes en route to his ultimate showdown with the notorious, shape-shifting Monkey King (Bo Huang). When we first see him, in the film's lengthy, tour-de-force opening sequence, he's helping a bunch of frightened villagers take down a giant, hungry fish that's leaping from the water and wreaking havoc. The comedy has a Mel Brooks-like sensibility about it that's appealing; it's playful in a deadly-serious situation. (Chow also directed the pleasingly cartoonish "Shaolin Soccer" and "Kung Fu Hustle.") But the choreography is undeniable: a breathtaking series of near misses and tricky balancing acts.

Xuan's preferred, absurd method of attack, per his mentor, is to tame the beasts by singing lullabies to them from a book called "300 Nursery Rhymes." The sweetness and innocence within Zhang's performance feels very Keanu Reeves circa "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," complete with a mop of wild hair. This is actually a compliment.

The rival demon hunter he keeps running into, a catlike creature known as Miss Duan (Qi Shu), favors a more direct strategy: She takes them on through balletic physical battles with the help of a magical golden bracelet—"The Infinite Flying Ring"—which she can duplicate countless times. As she flings the circles through the air like lethal boomerangs, her targets explode in a burst of dust. It's an awesome sight to behold.

But then "Journey to the West" has an episodic structure that saps it of much of the momentum it gains during those thrilling set pieces. Xuan and Duan have one adventure, then another, than another. They meet one eccentric character, then another, then another. There's a tiger demon and a pig demon. There's a preening royal known as Prince Important (clearly a friend of President Business from "The Lego Movie") and an elderly man known as the Almighty Foot, whose shriveled limb expands to an enormous size when the time comes for him to stomp on his enemies. (He might have the best catch phrase ever: "Today, you will die by my almighty foot!")

Along the way, Xuan and Duan trade some stilted and truly cringe-worthy dialogue—initially about their conflicting strategies, eventually about the half-hearted romance that develops between them. Out of nowhere, Duan finds herself falling hard for her unlikely companion and throwing herself at him in increasingly elaborate ways.

Maybe it's written that way on the page, but on the screen—especially in a film that benefits from such a strong and fearless female—the sudden need to have a man define her is a disheartening cliché. Also, some of the interactions between the male characters carry more than a whiff of homophobia which seems archaic. Again, maybe that's from the source material. But a film that clearly went out of its way to appeal to modern audiences perhaps could have gone just a tiny bit further.

Popular Blog Posts

“The Breakfast Club”, 30 Years Later: A Conversation Across Generations

A film teacher looks back on "The Breakfast Club," partly through the eyes of her students.

The Melodrama Of Woody Allen’s Critical Reputation

The conversation about Woody Allen's personal and professional lives intertwining continues, but to what end?

Memories of Roger: My Photo Journal from the Last Two Years

A gallery of photos, videos and links illustrating Chaz's journey relating to Roger's legacy in the two years since h...

Now, "Voyager": in praise of the Trekkiest "Trek" of all

As we mourn Abrams’ macho Star Trek obliteration, it’s a good time to revisit that most Star Trek-ian of accomplishme...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus