Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons "Miss, can I help?"
I have been missing Stephen Chow and his brand of live-action cartoon insanity. Like most people, I discovered him with Shaolin Soccer and he built on that with Kung Fu Hustle, which contains the most inventive use of digital effects since The Matrix. I enjoyed them so much, I even sat through CJ7, which was as bad as it looked. It's taken 5 years for Chow to make another film, and this one captures Chow in all his glory before veering too far away from its bullseye, never fully recovering.
Until I saw this, I never thought of Chow as the current leader of a genre that's been part of HK cinema forever. Kung-fu action fantasy comedies have endured for years, and I've sat through a few, but the 'paper and scissors' practical effects always kept me at a distance. With Chow, the quality of the effects are akin to a Stephen Sommers film, but the imagination unleashed by the CG is eye-popping. Chow goes well past fake looking into hilariously surreal. He makes the limitation work for him as part of the fun. It’s something a more realistic-looking effect wouldn’t have managed.
The first two major set-pieces are everything I've been missing, but in the 2nd half the story gets bogged down. I don't want to sound discouraging about Chow getting serious with themes of Buddhism and enlightenment, but those ideas don't know how to co-exist with the fun. It takes the air out of the film, so that even the mega-spectacle finale goes down like a leaking party balloon.
Shu Qi plays a lead role in this film. A beauty who works with prominent directors because she's that good an actress. She appears to be having a blast bouncing around Chow's playpen, and gives very entertaining reaction shots during the fight scenes that are endearing, while helping to sell the fantasy. I don't get why she isn't a bigger star.Rating: * * 1/2