HKMDB Daily News

February 8, 2014

The Monkey King (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 2:54 pm

The Monkey King
2/7/2014 by Clarence Tsui

The Bottom Line
A flat and surprisingly unengaging 3-D revisit of a now much-adapted story.

Hong Kong A-listers Donnie Yen, Chow Yun-fat and Aaron Kwok headline director Soi Cheang’s 3D origins story for the primate hero of classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West.”

The common Cantonese phrase “moon tin sun fat” — which translates as “Gods galore in the sky” — is used to refer to a chaotic state of struggling to get a handle on numerous loose ends. It’s a more than apt description for Hong Kong director Soi Cheang’s largely mainland Chinese-financed take on the classic 16thcentury Chinese fantasy novel Journey to the West. Focusing on the rite of passage of the story’s primate hero Sun Wukong, The Monkey King is filled to the brim with gravity-defying saints and sprites zipping across the screen in a litany of kinetic 3-D action sequences. But the stellar imagery hardly makes up for the film’s underwritten narrative, half-baked characterizations and emotional gimmicks.

Finally finished after many a mooted release over the past two years — the film’s production actually began in 2010, before Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, which released to commercial acclaim this time last year – The Monkey King credits four screenwriters and two directors of photography. Surveying the result, the project indeed feels as if too many talents spent too much time dragging the film in different directions, without it ever coming to a satisfactory, full-fledged end. Leaving many of the story’s themes of kinship, betrayal and revolution untapped, the film is also weighed down by a lack of experimentation in style and storytelling, not to mention a dearth of innovation or precision in its slapdash 3D digital effects.

All those missed opportunities, however, have since been glossed over by the film’s booming performance at the box office: released on Jan. 30 over the Lunar New Year holidays in mainland China, the film broke Iron Man 3’s opening-day record in the country and has since taken $90.4 million there. A sequel is now in the offing, with the producers confident enough to have already hinted at the prospect onscreen by bookending the film with a monolog by Yuanzhuang (voiced by Louis Koo), the monk who would lead the monkey on a trip to secure holy scriptures in the next installment. Outside China, the presence of names such as Donnie Yen and Chow Yun-fat might appeal to Asian cinema aficionados, but a limited release will likely be the way forward for a piece that would need more stylistic innovation to avoid paling before its Hollywood counterparts.

Having established himself as one of Hong Kong’s most promising young auteurs with festival entries such as the Johnnie To-produced Accident and Motorway, Cheang might sense the irony of scoring his most commercially successful hit with a film on which he didn’t (or couldn’t) impose his own creative imprint — apart from the faint strain of a dehumanized lead protagonist struggling to engage with stifling social norms, a Cheang hallmark.

The monkey king (played by Yen, nearly unrecognizable in heavy make-up and/or digitally enhanced attire) begins the film blissfully unaware of his supernatural roots, as he leads his life as a mischievous chieftain of a tribe of primates in a small cave, using his exceptional dexterity to pick fruits and impress his charges. But his origins are accounted for well before he is introduced onscreen. During the film’s prolog – a high-octane, all-destructive battle between the upstanding Jade Emperor (Chow) and the horned, evil-incarnate Bull Devil (Aaron Kwok, Cold War) – the former is banished to exile by the latter, and the goddess Nuwa (Zhang Zilin) reconstructing the world with crystals generated from her body.

The monkey’s embryo is nurtured within one of these crystals, a paranormal beginning that leads to a sage, Puti (Hai Yitian), taking him away for some training and guidance. Bestowed with the name Sun Wukong and now seeing a much bigger world he might play with, he goes on to terrorize other deities (such as his destruction of the East Sea Palace, where he secures his legendary cudgel) and unleash bedlam in the Jade Emperor’s kingdom (where he briefly serves as the master of sovereign’s royal stable, an official appointment going horribly awry).

All this monkey business is played out over a darker conspiracy bubbling underneath, as Bull Devil attempts to avenge for his defeat with plans for another offensive at the heavenly realm. Defying discord with his wife (Joe Chen) – the Jade Emperor’s younger sister who eventually becomes the famed Iron Fan Princess – Bull prepares for his attack, as he secures inside help from “Erlangshen” Yang Jian (Peter Ho), the warrior god seeking a step up in the celestial hierarchy after spending most of his years as a gatekeeper. Aware of Wukong’s abilities and divine destiny, Bull also plants white-fox spirit Ruxue (Xia Zitong) into his life, with the hope of using the pair’s growing bond to incite the monkey in rebelling against the Emperor.

Somehow, these marginalized figures’ struggles with their lot all fall through the cracks, as the aspects of humanity they represent — piety, ambition and love — never really get substantially articulated. Then again, even the major characters come across as distinctly lackluster, with the Jade Emperor lacking poise, Bull short of menace and the Monkey King himself appearing mostly like a jester capering about, void of the subversion which defines him both in the original novel and also in the many modern film and TV adaptations of the tome. For all their glimmering costumes — designed by a foursome comprising the newly Oscar-nominated William Chang (The Grandmaster) — this triumvirate of god-like characters come across as distinctly two-dimensional protagonists struggling to find some lyrical life in a three-dimensional spectacle. It’s all much a deity about nothing.

Venue: Public screening, Hong Kong, Feb. 6, 2014
Production Companies: Filmko Entertainment, Shenzhen Golden Shores Films in a presentation by Filmko Entertainment (Beijing), Mandarin Films, China Film Group, Beijing Wen Hua Dong Run Investment and J Star Film, in association with Zhejiang HG Entertainment, Dongguan Boning Enterprise and Investment, Shenzhen Golden Shores Films, Filmko Entertainment
Director: Soi Cheang
Cast: Donnie Yen, Chow Yun-fat, Aaron Kwok, Peter Ho, Joe Chen, Hai Yitian
Producer: Kiefer Liu
Executive Producers: Kiefer Liu, Zhao Haicheng, Chen Jingshi, Luo Qi, Han Lei, Ye Dewei, Zhang Quanxin, Hou Li, with Harvey Wong, Cheng Keung-fai, Han Sanping, Mu Yedong, Zhang Quanyin, and co-produced by Xu Yongan, Chen Canqiu
Screenwriters: Edmund Wong, Huo Xin, Szeto Kam-yuen, Chen Dali
Directors of Photography: Yang Tao, Cheung Man-po
Editor: Cheung Ka-fai
Production Designer: Daniel Fu
Art Director: Yang Changzhi
Costume Designers: William Chang, Yee Chung-man, Guo Pei, Lee Pik-kwan
Music: Christopher Young
Action Director: Donnie Yen
Visual Effects Directors: Kevin Rafferty, Ding Libo
Stereoscopic Designer and Cinematographer: Daniel L. Symmes
International Sales: Filmko Entertainment
In Cantonese (Hong Kong version)/Mandarin (mainland Chinese version)
No rating, 119 minutes
THR

February 1, 2014

The Monkey King in 3D (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 4:14 pm

The Monkey King in 3D
JANUARY 31, 2014

Hong Kong helmer Soi Cheang infuses a simplistic, action-driven narrative with inexhaustible energy, but little style or substance.

Maggie Lee

More than three years in the making, and easily the most ambitious cinematic rendition yet of Wu Cheng’en’s 16th-century Chinese epic “Journey to the West,” “The Monkey King in 3D” nonetheless can’t match the technical refinement or storytelling smarts of its Hollywood counterparts. Hong Kong helmer Soi Cheang infuses a simplistic, action-driven narrative with inexhaustible energy, but one expects greater stylistic flair and substance from the veteran helmer behind “Motorway” and “Dog Bites Dog.” Still, this CG-cluttered fantasy epic will still do well if marketed as family entertainment; opening on multiple Imax screens at home, it’s already expected to break Chinese New Year B.O. records.

Chinese viewers will be compelled to compare “The Monkey King” with Stephen Chow’s recent “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons”; while that film filled in the gaps of Xuanzang’s early life, this one traces the path that led Monkey to become the monk’s disciple. Admittedly, Chow’s humor and brilliantly subversive instincts are inimitable, but the collaboration of four scribes here has nevertheless produced a shallow, juvenile screenplay that plays like “Journey to the West for Beginners,” with borderline-cardboard characters.

The pic kicks off in high gear with an apocalyptic turf war between the deities and demons, rendered in six minutes of nonstop, “Transformers”-style mayhem during which both sides seem less intent on defeating each other than simply smashing the surrounding celestial architecture to smithereens. The deities prevail, led by Jade Emperor (Chow Yun-fat), whose sister, Princess Iron Fan (Joe Chen), pleads for the life of rebel leader Bull Demon King (Aaron Kwok), whom she loves. The couple is banished, along with the whole demon tribe, to Flaming Mountain.

The task of postwar reconstruction falls on the shoulders of goddess Nuwa (Zhang Zilin), who gives up her own body to fill the cracks in the firmament (don’t ask how). What’s left of her afterward is a pink, Kryptonite-ish substance that falls to Earth and enables the genesis of a primate embryo. And so Monkey is born.

While living inside his bubble, the infant Monkey is befriended by a snowy fox. When he grows up (now by Donnie Yen), he re-encounters the fox in the form of a pretty, fur-clad girl, Ruxue (Xia Zitong). They fall in love, entwining tails like in an old Disney cartoon, blissfully unaware that Bull has other plans for them in his scheme to retake the Heavenly Palace. Meanwhile, the Goddess of Mercy (Kelly Chen) sends Taoist master Puti (Hai Yitian) to be Monkey’s mentor and teach him magic. Unfortunately, Puti is not much of a disciplinarian, and his pupil, now called Sun Wukong, becomes naughtier than ever.

For more than 100 minutes, Wukong goes on a series of adventures, which invariably involve him vandalizing deity property like the Eastern Sea Palace, Jade Emperor’s celestial stable, or the fairy peach grove. Most Chinese kids know these chapters by heart, and there’s no new take here; the only novelty is that the effects are splashier in such a movie adaptation, with CGI so pervasive that one sometimes forgets they’re watching a live-action film.

“Journey to the West” was one of the few ancient classics not branded “revisionist” when the Chinese Communist Party took power: During the Cultural Revolution, in such propaganda films as the animated “Uproar in Heaven,” the Monkey King was celebrated as a role model for Red Guards — an anarchic force of nature that rose up against the ruling elite. In Jeff Lau’s “Chinese Odyssey” series, made on the eve of Hong Kong’s handover to China, the Monkey King was portrayed as an Everyman at the mercy of history, grappling with existential questions.

This current blockbuster incarnation, by contrast, is arguably the most vanilla of the bunch, portraying Monkey/Wukong as playful rather than rebellious, and only a threat to the social order when treacherously provoked. All of which makes him friendlier to a tyke audience, but it provides Yen with little room to flex his acting muscles or otherwise emote effectively; in fact, the thesp looks unrecognizable in his hairy suit and heavy makeup.

Jade Emperor is as majestic and magnanimous as any absolute ruler can get, but it’s a dull role, and Chow’s attempts to enliven it through occasional banter with Wukong come to naught. Kwow looks sexier than one might expect for a man with horns jutting out of his forehead, but his vengeful Bull is one of the flattest roles he’s played. Bull’s accomplice, the three-eyed celestial gatekeeper Erlangshen (Peter Ho), proves the most intriguing and psychologically persuasive character here, essentially a disgruntled employee who’s been denied a promotion or pay rise for several centuries.

Yang Tao and Cheung Man-po’s compositions and the computer illustrations (by more than a dozen vfx companies) boast a geometry inspired by traditional Chinese art, notably in a scene where a pack of flying horses form a beautiful symmetrical pattern in the sky. However, many of the visuals are oversaturated and simply sub-standard, resembling cheap computer-game fare; most annoyingly, the fight scenes are often obscured by scattered debris. The creature design ranges from magnificent to kitschy.

With so much animation crowding the background, the terrific high-wire action (directed by Yen) is frequently upstaged. Production design is sumptuous when it comes to the various heavenly and underwater habitats, but inexcusably slack in its evocation of the hellish Flaming Mountain, which consists of only two sets: a dreary, charred cave interior and a sooty pit.

Film Review: ‘The Monkey King in 3D’
Reviewed at UA Windsor Cinema, Hong Kong, Jan. 30, 2014. Running time: 119 MIN. Original title: “Xiyouji zhi da nao tiangong”

Production
(Hong Kong-China) A Filmko Entertainment, Newport Entertainment (in Hong Kong)/Beijing Anshi Naying Culture Co., China Film Group, Wanda Media (in China) release of a Filmko Entertainment, Mandarin Films Co., China Film Group presentation of a Filmko Entertainment, Shenzhen Golden Shores Films production in association with Zhejiang HG Entertainment Co., Shenzhen Golden Shores Films, Dongguan Boning Entreprise and Investment Co. (International sales: Filmko Entertainment, Hong Kong.) Produced by Kiefer Liu. Executive producers, Kiefer Liu, Zhao Haicheng, Chen Jingshi, Luo Qi, Han Lei, Ye Dewei, Zhang Quanxin, Hou Li. Co-executive producers, Xu Yong’an, Chen Canqiu, Keefer Liu, Harvey Wong.

Crew
Directed by Soi Cheang. Screenplay, Szeto Kam-yuen, Edmund Wong, Huo Xin, Dali Chen. Camera (color, widescreen, HD, 3D), Yang Tao, Cheung Man-po; editor, Cheung Ka-fai; music/music supervisor, Christopher Young ; production designer, Daniel Fu; art director, Yang Changzhi; set decorators, Zhang Haiwang, Zhao Zhanli; costume designers, William Cheung, Yee Chung-man, Guo Pei, Lee Pik-kwan; sound (Dolby Digital), Jay Yin; re-recording mixers, Steve Burgess, Chris Goodes; special makeup, Shaun Smith, Mark Philip Garbarino; visual effects supervisor, Kevin Rafferty, Ding Libo, Kim Wook, Kim Jung-hoon, Patrick Kim, Kim Chan-goo, Park Myung-song, Lee In-ho, Li Rui, Shin Chang-dong, Eric Xu, Rita Shi, Fort Guo, Billy Zhuang, Chris Q Yao, Adrian Chen, Jiang Weibin, David Ebner, Jeff Goldman; visual effects, GS VFX, Dexter China VFX, Dexter Digital, CJ Powercast, Idea, Macrograph, Illumina VFX, Wuji LMZ Art&Design, Mad Man, Digital Studio 21, More VFX, Revo Fx, Technicolor, PO Beijing, Studio 51, Lucky Dog, TWR Entertainment, Z Storm, DEVFX, the Resistance Visual Effects; stereoscopic supervisors, Daniel L. Symmes, Keith Collea; action director, Donnie Yen; stunt coordinators, Kenji Tanigaki, Yan Hua; assistant director, Mai Yonglin, Vash Yan; Casting, Liu Shiliu, Liu Sasa.

With
Donnie Yen, Aaron Kwok, Chow Yun-fat, Peter Ho, Hai Yitian, Xia Zitong, Joe Chen, Kelly Chen, Gigi Leung, Zhang Zilin, Calvin Cheng, Cheung Siu-fai. (Cantonese dialogue)
Variety

September 6, 2009

Venice and Vancouver

michelle-ye-red-carpet
Michelle Ye Xuan

han-yuqin-premiere-2
Han Yuqin
Louis Koo
soi-cheang-pou-soi-premiere
Soi Cheang Pou-Soi
Richie Ren’s wife, Tina
accident-premiere
Richie Ren, wife Tina, Soi Cheang, guest, Louis Koo, Michelle Ye, Han Yuqin
Venice: Accident Red Carpet (Zimbio)

Louis Koo

Richie Ren

Michelle Ye Xuan

Han Yuqin
(Sina.com)

Accident defies Hong Kong thriller genre

Variety: Tetsuo the Bullet Man (Japan)

Vancouver Fest Announces Dragons & Tigers (more summaries)
THE COW (Guan Hu) North American Premiere
The sole survivor of a Japanese attack in WWII, shock-haired Chinese farmer Nie Er becomes an unlikely resistance hero, along with his companion, an indomitably loyal milk cow. Guan Hu’s picaresque black comedy packs a delightfully absurd punch, with stunning images illustrating a touching magic-realist fable.

OXHIDE II (Liu Jiayin) North American Premiere
One of Chinese cinema’s boldest experiments in narrative fiction is also the funniest Chinese film of the year. Liu Jiayin’s story of making dumplings with her parents structures this formally daring, wryly amusing look at family dynamics, economic burdens and the ethics and aesthetics of cooking from scratch.


NIGHT AND FOG (Ann Hui) North American Premiere
Based on a true incident, Ann Hui’s harrowing drama captures domestic violence in all its dramatic complexity. When a pregnant mainland woman marries a violently jealous unemployed Hong Konger, economic and cultural differences prove explosive.


AT THE END OF DAYBREAK (Ho Yuhang)
An elegant, tough, unconventional film noir from Malaysia. Probing beneath unquiet surfaces, Ho Yuhang’s luminous images and stunning montages catch quiet passions erupting into unpredictable, shocking action: between two young lovers, between husband and wife and between mother and son.


YANG YANG (Cheng Yu-chieh) North American Premiere
This vibrantly alive coming-of-age story of a young Eurasian woman in Taipei follows glamorous Yang Yang from high-school athlete to aspiring actress. Director Cheng Yu-chieh’s intimate camera captures the precise articulation, via sex, scandal and heartbreak, between adolescence and adulthood.

September 5, 2009

Accident cast in Venice

Filed under: News — Tags: , , , , , — dleedlee @ 12:51 pm

Accident Photocall

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[Michelle+Ye+accident.jpg]
Michelle Ye Xuan
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Near accident!
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Han Yuqin, Michelle Ye
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Soi Cheang Pou-Soi
[Michelle+Ye+accident+zimbio.jpg]
Han Yuqin
[richie+ren+accident.jpg]
Richie Ren

[accident+still.jpg]

Chinese media give the film lukewarm reviews (6-7.5/10) after viewing press screening.

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