A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
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.