Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Monkey King 2 in 3D: Aaron Kwok Wears the Monkey Suit

After causing an uproar in Heaven, Sun Wukong needs to repent. However, monkeys are not good at contrition, nor are kings or demigods. Nevertheless, the Monkey King agrees to do penance by protecting Buddhist monk Xuanzang on his pilgrimage in search of scriptures. Unfortunately, a seductive demoness will try to end the epic Journey to the West prematurely in Cheang Pou-soi’s The Monkey King 2 in 3D (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

The Goddess Guanyin offers the Monkey King an offer he cannot refuse. In exchange for his freedom, Sun Wukong will loyally protect and serve Xuanzang during his journey. Of course, this will be easier said than done. To restore her demonic life force, the wicked White Bone Spirit is determined to eat the monk, thereby ingesting his spiritual essence. As a result, Xuanzang’s party is constantly surrounded by minor demons in human guise, but the monk remains obstinately blind to their true nature.

The two constantly argue over Sun Wukong’s apparently groundless fighting and killing. The Monkey King’s comrades, Zhu “Pigsy” Bajie and Sha “Sandy” Wujing find themselves stuck awkwardly between the monkey and the monk, but they have a sinking feeling the hairy demigod is more right than wrong.

Unlike Surprise, Monkey King 2 largely plays it straight, or at least as straight as possible when the protagonist is hyperactive primate. This time around, Aaron Kwok steps into Donnie Yen’s monkey suit and just basically goes nuts in a way we never knew he had in him. Watching him zip around in the hirsute makeup sort of brings to mind Robin Williams. Frankly, it is kind of stunning that he can bring this kind of chaos. Reportedly, Kwok trained hard for the role, but the physical is the least of it. Still, he definitely looks good performing Sammo Hung’s zippy, otherworldly action choreography.

While Kwok is a minor revelation, Gong Li re-confirms she is one of the best in the business as White Bone Spirit, a.k.a. Baigujing. She has to be the most alluring and sophisticated supernatural temptresses perhaps ever seen on-screen. She brings all kinds of sinister élan, yet drops subtle hints of her long buried humanity. In contrast, William Feng Shaofeng is a bit wooden as Xuanzang, but it is hard to compete with Kwok and Gong.

Monkey King 2 is so frenetically supercharged, it sort of leaves viewers dazed. At times, the gravity-defying Sun Wukong looks more like a character in a video game than a movie. However, you have to give Kwok credit for pushing himself. As crazy as it gets, Gong still classes up the joint and even manages to outright steal the show. Recommended for fans of big, bold wuxia madness, The Monkey King 2 in 3D open tomorrow (2/5) in New York, at the AMC Empire.