Saturday, December 04, 2021

Monkey King: Reborn—Sun Wukong Animated Again

The Monkey King (a.k.a. Sun Wukong) is sort of like the Chinese Loki. He is a demigod and a trickster, but he can also be a bit of a screw-up. In this film, he calls himself a demon (with a soul), but same difference for us mortals. Whatever you consider him, he messes up big time in Wang Yun Fei’s Monkey King: Reborn, which releases this coming Tuesday on DVD and VOD.

This indeed the Monkey King, who we have seen in numerous
Journey to the West, of radically varying quality. This is the reformed Monkey King, who serves as the legendary monk Xuanzang’s disciple, along with Pigsy and Sandy (a.k.a. Bajie). However, he is still a handful. While staying in a Taoist monastery, he rather undiplomatically (but ever so archetypally) steals fruit from the Tree of Life in their garden. When the obnoxious caretakers blame him for their own theft of a special fruit, he goes on a rage bender and inadvertently destroys the tree.

Ever so inconveniently, it turns out the mystical tree was keeping the mega-evil “Father of Demons” buried underneath (much like the Monkey King himself was once imprisoned under a mountain). At least Sun Wukong is determined to clean up his mess, but he will need the help of the embodiment of human qi, whom the Monkey King calls “Fruitie,” because he initially mistook him for a fruit spirit.

Maybe not so weirdly, Fruitie looks a lot like the “radish” creature from
Monster Hunt and it is similarly annoying. However, Sun Wukong’s in-your-face swagger is definitely entertaining. The character design of this animated Monkey King is not so very different from that of Tian Xiao Peng’s Monkey King: Hero is Back, but he has more hardnosed attitude this time around.

In fact, this really is not an animated film for young children. Sun Wukong is prone to cussing and his big battle with the Father of Demons gets impressively brutal. On the other hand, adult wuxia fans will appreciate the action.

Frankly, it is somewhat reassuring to see a film with this much Buddhist imagery can still get produced and released in China. Presumably, there is not much room in “Xi Jinping Thought” for Heaven & Hell and reincarnation, but they are all present and accounted for here.

Wang’s animated Monkey King cannot match the spectacle Wan Laiming’s classic
The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven, but it is much richer visually than Hero is Back. It is a wild, chaotic ride, but that is how we like to see the Monkey King roll. Recommended for fans of the iconic character, Monkey King: Reborn releases Tuesday (12/7) on DVD and VOD, from Well Go USA.