Movie Review: ‘The Monkey King—Uproar in Heaven’8 April, 2012 at 08:00 | Posted in Chinese culture | Leave a comment
Tags: Chinese culture, film
Chinese legendary tale brilliantly remastered in 3-D
Wan Laiming was the Walt Disney of China. Unfortunately, his long-planned masterwork finally came to fruition on the eve of the Cultural Revolution. Just as the second part of his animated adaptation of the Ming-era novel “Journey to the West” was released to general acclaim, the Chinese film industry was shuttered for reasons of ideological madness.
Recognized as one of the greatest Chinese animated features ever, Wan’s complete “The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven” has been meticulously restored, frame-by-frame, and converted to wide-screen 3-D. Su Da and Chen Zhihong’s “Monkey King” restoration had its North American premiere screenings during the 2012 New York International Children’s Film Festival.
Being in fact a monkey, the Monkey King is perfectly suited to animation. Supernaturally powerful, he happily leads the monkey tribe of Flower Fruit Mountain, but his rambunctious nature attracts celestial attention. On the orders of the Jade Emperor, the Monkey King is whisked up to the heavens, only to be given a dubious title and shunted off to a harmless corner of the cosmos.
The Monkey King does not play that game, though; he creates quite the ruckus before returning to his clan on Flower Fruit Mountain. However, the beings of the higher realm consider his rebellious drive a threat and will not leave well enough alone.
Often thought to be influenced by Hindu deities, the Monkey King clearly fits the Trickster archetype. While he eventually settles down in the source novel, the film features him at his most uproarious. Frankly, some of his moves prefigure several signature sequences from the “Matrix” franchise. He is also quite proficient with his magical staff, delivering plenty of satisfaction for martial arts fans.
However, the look of Wan’s film, by way of the Su and Chen’s restoration, is truly remarkable. It has a rich lushness, but there is also a mystical vibe that resists comparison to other films. It is also hard to describe the film’s color palette, but it is quite distinctive (and a testament to the filmmakers’ restoration efforts).