Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons Blu-Ray Review
I fondly remember being introduced to Stephen Chow back in 2004 with his release of KUNG FU HUSTLE. The movie was the definition of controlled insanity. Without gushing too much over one of my favorite movies, I have to bring it up because Stephen Chow has struck gold again with JOURNEY TO THE WEST: CONQUERING THE DEMONS. Chow once again combines the humor of a Saturday morning cartoon and over-the-top action/Kung Fu sequences to create one of the most ambitious and entertaining films of 2013.
JOURNEY TO THE WEST comes complete with its own mythology based on an ancient tale I’ve never read (and probably never will). Chow feeds the audience just enough bread crumbs so we can grasp the concepts presented as we flow through this wild ride. We’re introduced to Xuanzang (Zhang), a harmless, yet brave, Buddhist demon hunter. Despite hunting demons, his method is irregular when dealing with some enraged evil spirits. He approaches the situation from a perspective of peace, reading from a book of nursery rhymes hoping to calm the evil in their soul and bringing them back to the path of good.
While attempting his latest exorcism, on a monstrous fish that devours moronic peasants in a fishing village, another demon hunter presents herself. Miss Duan (Qi) doesn’t quite have the same soothing approach as Zuanzang has. She chooses to pummel the demon into submission before she captures him in an array of garments that imprisons them in a handy animal shaped bag. Despite her rough and tough demeanor, she feels an attraction to Xuanzang because unlike most of the men in her life, he ignores her advances and shows no interest in reciprocating her affection. While she’s focused on their first kiss, he’s more interested in reaching enlightenment and finding a way to become a successful demon hunter through harmonious ways.
JOURNEY TO THE WEST is not as wildly action packed as some of Chow’s other movies, but there’s enough fighting, silly character conversations and black humor to keep the movie chugging along, sometimes at break neck speeds. What Chow manages to do in all the movies of his that I’ve seen, is insert a secondary romantic plot. JOURNEY TO THE WEST may be his most successful attempt to date at love between two people. Instead of two completely different characters drawn by an uncertain attraction, Xuanzang and Duan seem like a perfect match to take on the world’s demons together. Duan is more upfront about why they should be together while Xuanxang puts his emotions behind his path towards religious knowledge. Both are in the right and the wrong with their approach to their feelings, but it’s not until the third act when this seemingly “will they or won’t they” subplot comes to a bittersweet end.
Actions scenes are jammed it full of modern cartoon theatrics, with AIRPLANE! inspired quips. There’s so much fun to be had watching the outlandish battles and overall silliness, that the squirts of blood and bleak injections of human cannibalism and child murder feel more shockingly dark. Plenty of Chow’s cinematic influences, both American and Asian, are seen throughout and wouldn’t surprise me if this guy has some hard ‘R’ actions on his shelf next to a couple of his favorite animated heroes employing ACME products. His knowledge of crafting something unique while paying homage to his influences is nearly flawless. JOURNEY TO THE WEST has me in the same enlivened mood I was after KUNG FU HUSTLE; crossing my fingers and hoping for a sequel.
JOUNREY TO THE WEST: CONQUERING THE DEMONS BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: (1080p HD Widescreen 2:39:1) This isn’t CGI we’ve come to know and expect from our hundred million dollar budgets, but the cheesiness sometimes matches the visual spectacle. In that regard, the HD is precisely what you’re looking for. My only disappointment is that I wasn’t able to view this in 3D.
Audio: (Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HDMA) It seems to be a running theme on these Magnolia/Magnet releases where I have to crank up my TV for silence parts, but the fights become unbearably loud. You can listen to a dubbed English version, but that would be a slap in the face of these hard working Asian actors and actresses.
Behind the Scenes Featurettes (12:12): You can play them all at once or individually. The separate features include “Stunts and Special Effects”, “Cast and Characters”, “Director Stephen Chow”, “The Laughs”, “Production Design” and “Choreography”. Some of my favorites were “Director Stephen Chow”, “Production Design” and “The Laughs”. Sadly these are all a extremely short and don’t offer us enough insight into the things we’re specifically interested in. I wish Magnolia/Magnet would start juicing the bonuses they attach to their releases.
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