Hey there, I’m Jared. I have 496 movies and shows in my Instant Queue and that’s just way too many. I’m not adding anymore movies or shows to it until it’s empty. So, I’m going to start at Number One and work my way down the list and give you guys a choice of the next five in my queue, in order, all the way to the end. But, I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that too. Let’s get to it!
What’s the movie? JOURNEY TO THE WEST (2013)
What’s it rated? PG-13 for a child-eating fish, a man-eating pig demon and a blood spraying simpleton.
Did people make it? Written by Stephen Chow and many other gentleman. Directed by Stephen Chow and Derek Kwok. Acted by Shu Qi, Wen Zhang, Huang Bo, Show Luo, Lee Sheung Ching and Chen Bing Qiang.
What’s it like in one sentence? A stylistic hodgepodge of tonally shifting adventures.
Why did you watch it? Chewer Becky recommended it.
What’s it about in one paragraph? A naive demon hunter fights demons with his book of nursery rhymes while avoiding the advances of a beautiful warrior mage. The demon hunter focuses on the teachings of Buddha and isn’t interested in monetary success, which most of the (multiple) other demon hunters are. As he fights the deadliest foes he’s ever had to face, he will also decide whether to give in to his lesser human emotions and love.
Play or remove from my queue? I mean, you should play the shit out of it but what the fuck did I just watch? For one thing, this movie is dark as hell for being PG-13 and the fact that all of the death and destruction is balanced out by weird but funny moments of slapstick humor is baffling. What’s even more baffling is that for most of the time, it works.
The episodic nature of the film works the best in the first half with a pulse-pounding attack by a fish demon on a small, stilted village on the river. My expectations for this film were mostly tempered by Stephen Chow’s work on Shaolin Soccer and Kung-Fu Hustle, so I was blown away when the fish demon started killing kids and shit.
SPOILERS ALL AROUND:
When the fish demon shoots out its suckers and grabs onto the kid and starts dragging her off, I was giggling my ass off. This is right after the little girl is giggling at her dad being torn to pieces in the water because she thinks he’s playing. I’m a fan of gallows humor, for sure, but I couldn’t help thinking how much therapy that kid was going to need later….but nope, fish demon kills the shit of of her AND THEN kills her mom who dives in after her. It’s a brutal sequence and the use of silence as the villagers wait to get attacked again made the scene a wonderful set piece reminiscent of The Host. When our hero Sanzing finally has the fish demon turned into his human form, he starts setting out all of his demon hunting instruments, sits down gracefully, and the demon hunter and demon share this little smile that’s like “Shall we get started?” and it’s totally brilliant. Most of the time, the humor really does land well without becoming too tonally jarring, but eventually it does become a bit overwhelming, especially with how tragic the last few minutes are.
The second big set piece is Sanzing, who is extremely terrible at demon hunting, teaming up with Miss Duan (Shu Qi) to fight a pig demon that roasts people and feeds them to unsuspecting folk that come to his inn. Miss Duan’s whole sequence with her badass magic bracelet that shits out thousands of deadly, flying magic bracelets is awesome. Really one of the most entertaining action sequences I’ve seen all year, but also shot through with some genuine darkness with human bodies roasting on spits in the background.
Journey to the West really embraces the yin and the yang, I think. Not that I know much about it, but every single bit of darkness in the film is buoyed by moments of levity and light. As much as that works thematically and as well as it works for the first hour or so of the film, it does eventually become jarring as Sanzing and Miss Duan face off against the Monkey King. He’s held in a deep cave by Buddha, so obviously he’s not a great guy, but when he becomes full evil, it’s ruthless and he kills ALL of the film’s supporting players. The other three demon hunters get obliterated so thoroughly that it’s genuinely depressing while also making the stakes super fucking real. And then when that damned Monkey King kills Miss Duan, it’s genuinely heartbreaking, even though the romance was a bit weird and one-sided. It might just be that I’ve been in love with Shu Qi since The Storm Riders, but her work here is really powerful and her death was brutal and quite deflating. Basically, the slapstick, good natured, optimistic worldview of the film led to what I suppose is a victory…but doesn’t feel triumphant..
Miss Duan’s death is what gives Sanzing the added boost to become Super Buddhist Man, who then reads from the sutra and summons fucking SPACE BUDDHA to lay a smack down on the Monkey King. That whole sequence is so batshit wonderful that it gave me goosebumps and then it’s followed by a genuinely beautiful moment where Sanzing basically crowns the now demon-free Monkey King with Miss Duan’s golden ring. It’s a lovely moment of forgiveness and peace in a film that’s also filled with spraying blood, a fucking SPACE BUDDHA and gay jokes. Again, a little tonally jarring, but it still works on maybe not a filmatic level, but an instinctual one.
But now what? Sanzing gets to travel the world with the three human incarnations of demons he (somewhat) helped defeat and fight more demons, losing more friends and comrades along the way. I know this is loosely based on a 500-year old book about the pilgrimage of a Buddhist monk to the west and I have a feeling that the story is mostly in service of sharing Buddhist and Taoist ideals, which is great since Sanzing basically becomes an idealized Buddhist by the end. But, for this white Westerner, I was sad for him that he was embarking on a journey that will be fraught with violence, danger and bloodshed and he can’t even have the beautiful, strong and superbadass warrior lady that loves him for company. Just three men that used to be demons. Shit is heavy, yo. He loses everything to have everything, but maybe that definition of everything is super sad and tragic is all I’m saying.
Yeah, Sanzing’s wig throughout 90% of the film is terrible and some of the CG is garbage and the wire-work is spotty at best, but through all of its flaws, Journey to the West is kind of beautiful in a shaggy dog sort of way. Stephen Chow has made something big and weird and wonderful here. Not all of it works for me, but I’m not sure that it should.
How’s the music? I really liked it until the horrible cue at the end while Sanzing and his buddies are walking into the CG sunset and he sees Miss Duan’s sprit floating around in some leaves or petals or whatever. It was sooooo melodramatic that I wanted to scream. Otherwise, it’s rousing and fun all the way down.
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? The Four (haven’t seen this yet), Shaolin Soccer (need to revisit this soon), King of Beggars (still haven’t seen this), The Sorcerer and the White Snake (not great) and The Treasure Hunter (I’m down).
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? This is the highest grossing Chinese-language film of all time. I’m ready for the sequel.
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 4.0
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 3.8
Can you link to the movie? As you wish.
Any last thoughts? Ugh, and the Monkey King’s computer generated mouth screams went from awesome to ricockulous is three-seconds flat.
What else you watching? Getting deep into Veep.
Any spoilerish thoughts about last week’s film, The Conspiracy? Any of you guys and gals watch this one yet?
Next Week? All of your recent suggestions are on the list, but this week I want to knock something off of my queue, so I’m going with Don’t Look Now.