The Monkey King 3 film review: Soi Cheang’s fantasy adaptation turns to love in its various forms
Third instalment of this latest adaptation of the Chinese Ming dynasty novel Journey to the West sees the Monkey King, monk Xuanzang and their demon friends trapped in Womanland, where falling in love is the only way out
The first of Soi Cheang Pou-soi’s CGI-laden adaptations of Ming dynasty novel Journey to the West, in 2014, was disappointing; 2016 sequel The Monkey King 2 was much improved – a thrilling action fantasy that didn’t shy away from darker moral issues – and it’s the quartet of lead actors from that film who have reunited to continue their pilgrimage for a third instalment.
In The Monkey King 3, Buddhist monk Xuanzang (William Feng Shaofeng) and his disciples – Wukong the Monkey King (Aaron Kwok Fu-shing), pig demon Bajie (Xiao Shenyang) and the blue-skinned sand demon Wujing (Him Lo Chung-him) – inadvertently enter the Womanland of Western Liang, a nation populated by women raised to believe that men are fatally deceptive in matters of the heart.
Love nevertheless blossoms between Xuanzang and the Womanland’s young queen (Zhao Liying), even though her royal preceptor (Gigi Leung Wing-kei) is hell-bent on sentencing the men to death. As Wukong and Co. search for a way out of this nation surrounded by a vast magical net, it soon transpires, conveniently, that romantic love is the only key to opening the gate.
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So will Xuanzang give up on his sacred mission and stay with the queen? The question, as rhetorical as it sounds, is central to this visually striking comic drama, which curiously sidelines the disciples and offers barely a memorable fight sequence – a big departure from The Monkey King 2, whose action was choreographed by Sammo Hung Kam-bo.
While the film has intriguing elements, including a poorly handled chapter on abortion and an androgynous river god (Lin Chi-ling) who was jilted by a human lover, the profound love Cheang sets out to depict remains tantalisingly out of reach right up to the film’s philosophical conclusion.
Having eschewed the usual depictions of Wukong causing supernatural mayhem, The Monkey King 3 stands or falls on its musings about love in all its forms – and they’re largely unsatisfying.
The Monkey King 3 opens on February 15
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