The Chinese lunar calendar assigns each year to a totem animal, and each year the film industry’s top marketers scramble to produce something designed to match up.
2016 is the year of the monkey, and it’s not difficult to imagine which character they will turn to again.
The Monkey King 2 is the latest movie featuring the classic character from Journey to the West. The story is based on one of the most famous chapters, “The Fight with the Skeleton Demon,” and it expands it a bit for the film.
In the novel, the skeleton demon can change into anything. In order to capture the monk and eat his meat to live forever, the demon changes into an old man to win his sympathy. The monkey king, with his power to see through any disguise, steps in and kills the old man even as the monk lambasts him for the effort.
The skeleton demon returns in the form of an old woman, and the monkey king kills her. The demon returns again as a little girl, and the monkey king kills her again. The brutality is too much for the monk to bear, and he finally abandons his apprentice.
When the demon returns a fourth time to capture the monk, Buddha has to seek out the monkey king and persuade him to return and save his master.
The movie expands on the popular story with humorous elements and some excellent performances by the actors and actresses.
The monk is played by Feng Shaofeng, an actor famous for his grave expressions and portrayals of heroic characters.
Hong Kong actor Aaron Kwok stars as the monkey king. The former superstar is hidden behind a mask and fake teeth, making him almost unrecognizable to viewers. Commenters on Douban noted Guo’s acting was much better than they expected.
The other two apprentices, Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing, are played by Xiao Shenyang, a comedian from Shenyang, Liaoning who rose to fame with an appearance on the 2009 Spring Festival Gala, and Him Law, a young Hong Kong actor.
The movie’s main selling point, however, is the skeleton demon portrayed by Gong Li. Her make-up, dress and her facial expressions are vivid and fit the creepy character. Although the acting and story are obviously exaggerated, Gong’s personal characteristics shine through.
The movie also invited Fei Xiang, a Taiwan singer from the 1970s, to play the emperor, and Hong Kong actress and singer Kelly Chen to play Buddha.
There have been numerous attempts to adapt the monkey king for the big screen, but few have been as well received as the 1986 TV series.
While it’s highly unlikely The Monkey King 2 will fare any better, it makes a noble attempt with modern special effects and a reasonable revision of the story.