Following the success of the previous installments, it’s not a surprise to see director Pou Soi-cheang once again adapting the novel “Journey to the West” for another chapter of the franchise. Still filled with the same magic and sorcery in an epic sense of scale matched by the earlier entries, this reunites several famous cast members along with several newcomers to the franchise for this thrilling addition to the series.
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Traveling with his friends, Sun Wukong the Monkey King (Aaron Kwok, from “Divergence”) along with the monk Tangseng (Shaofeng Feng, from “White Vengeance”), Zhu Bajie (Xiao Shenyang, from “The Grandmaster”) and Shaseng (Chung Him Law, from “Eye in the Sky”) continue their journey to the West but find themselves thrust into a strange all-female kingdom. Captured by the benevolent leader (Zanilla Zhao, from “Eternal Wave”) fearing they are part of a mystical prophecy claiming they are to lead to the downfall of their society, the group is allowed to stay in order to help solve a burning riddle where the women are looking to escape from their entrapment in the kingdom, which angers a guardian figure involved with the fate of the kingdom. Realizing they must bring their powers together to save everyone, the group rushes to help the women in order to continue their journey.
This here proves to be every bit as enjoyable as the previous entries in the series. Much of the fun is based on the incredible action sequences in the film. From the opening escape from a massive river whale that continually stalks them, on their journey to the first encounter with the women in the jungle, the action scenes create an impressive spectacle that runs throughout ‘Monkey King 3.’ There are later scenes of the group meeting up with various mystical creatures inside the guardian cave or the rescue mission to bring them back home that adds to the fun as well.
Courtesy of visual effects supervisors Lee Ju-won and Mark van den Bergen, the mixture of CGI and practical effects makes these stand out to create some breathtaking sequences full of fantasy action spectacle. Moreover, the work of special makeup effects supervisor Shaun Smith is up to par with the work on the previous films. His team ends up making Kwok virtually indistinguishable in the Monkey King makeup while giving the pig-headed Shenyang a flawless look that is striking and memorable. With the female members of the kingdom granted a fine fantasy/battle warrior mix to them that is suitably appealing while fitting into the universe of the series, this helps to make the film enjoyable to look at.
As well as the fine action, there is a lot to like about the story. With the screenplay by Ning Wen, adapted from the novel by Wu Chengern, offering a strong backbone for the spectacle-filled sequences to come forward, it’s also surprisingly touching and emotional. This touches on numerous strong themes such as love, loyalty, honor and friendship. The main group is shown to have a strong bond due to their adventures together, which means they exhibit strong loyalty and friendship together as each one has a specific scene showing their bond. From a quest to acquire healing water for several wounds to playing dead in order to provide assistance for a plan to save everybody else, this motley crew of friends comes together to showcase these elements in full force. However, it is clearly the theme of love that has a strong impact on the film, running throughout constantly. With the female kingdom cursed to remain isolated forever due to spurned love in the first place, the idea of exploring the concept, almost from the beginning, is a creative approach to take. Offering up the tribe as if they’ve never experienced the emotion before based on the spurned lover of legend, the emotional extent of this idea is allowed to reign over the final half which quite exciting.
There’s a minor issue to be had with this one. The film takes away the rather enjoyable fantasy action scenarios it had been presenting in the first half where it replaces that with a romantic drama instead. Featuring the idea of the group trying to help evoke the feelings of love to the tribe of women who are battling the destructive spirit representing the lover, offers the potential for a lot of action but it abandons this in favor of the emotional resolution. While satisfying for the characters in the film, this is an emotional let-down for the viewers who have their investment brought down at the wrong part of the film. Even though this sets up the potential next film in the franchise, a more cohesive effort for both parties could’ve been utilized. As well, some of the tonal shifts in the film are a little off, from off-kilter childish humor in comic pratfalls and cheesy mugging to slapstick antics that aren’t so funny, these scenes really clash considerably with a more serious romance and action setup that is provided throughout the final half. However, these aren’t that problematic and don’t hold this back too much.
Despite a few hiccups here and there which don’t affect it too much, this one keeps itself enjoyable enough to stay interesting for a large portion of it’s running time. This ends up being recommended mainly for those that have enjoyed the series so far or who appreciate these fantasy/action epics while those that don’t find those fun should heed caution with it.