"Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" is the new film from Chinese comedy legend Stephen Chow. Well, he's not actually in the movie, but he co-wrote, produced, and directed the film. On IMDB it credits Chi-Kin Kwok as a co-director of the movie, but in the credits of the version released in the U.S., the sole credit for directing goes to Stephen Chow. Whichever version of the credits is true it is clear that Stephen Chow had a big hand in making this film.
The humor in this movie will be familiar to anyone who has seen a Stephen Chow film. At times, it resembles the kind of humorous martial arts action seen in Stephen Chow's "Kung Fu Hustle". However, in some ways, this movie is not as over-the-top as "Kung Fu Hustle". That's even with all sorts of creatures and demons and various computer generated things. Compared to most movies though it is rather over the top. It's the smaller moments that really got me laughing the hardest in this movie, however. Sometimes, the best things come without any sort of big special effects or grand choreography.
"Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" is not all laughs though. There is a strong heart at the center of its story and it really makes it easy to care about the whole journey that is taking place. There are characters to root for and lessons to be learned. "Journey to the West" is an old and still very popular story from China. I have never read the original story, but I doubt that this movie adapts it too closely. Here, it is more of a jumping off point for a good comical action-filled adventure. Like I said, however, this movie also has heart. There is a very adorable romance at play here alongside all of the action. There is also a delving into different philosophies of life that lends an educational component to the movie.
The acting in "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" is fantastic all around. Shu Qi as demon hunter Miss Duan is definitely a highlight and brings much of the humor and action in the film. The main actor is Wen Zhang and he provides most of the heart of the movie as a Buddhist demon hunter. He deserves credit for giving such an over-the-top comedy a serious edge. Every role here, big and small, is handled well and with lots of humor.
The effects in "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" are very good. I mean, yeah, sometimes the computer generated images are very obviously computer generated, but for the most part, everything looks right for the different kind of images presented here. It's not super-realistic effects for the most part, but in a movie as over the top as this one, it works just fine.
The cinematography in this movie is fantastic. It is an expertly filmed movie. There are some really pretty images here and a lot of that has to do with the cinematography. The special effects also play their part in creating these images, but the cinematography creates beautiful images even when there aren't much special effects on screen. What's interesting is that Sung Fai Choi, the cinematographer of this film, also worked on the movie "The Forbidden Kingdom" which was a U.S. made movie that was also based on "Journey to the West". Both offer different takes on the story, but both are very successful in their own ways. I guess it just shows how solid the source material is that it can be adapted so many times and in so many different ways and still come out good.
Stephen Chow himself has even adapted the story before in "A Chinese Odyssey" which was a two part movie series. I found the first film in that series to be very funny, but the second one lost me a little bit even though I still liked it. Perhaps knowing the source material better would make for a better viewing experience for any of these adaptations. I am sure there is humor in "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" that I did not notice or did not understand fully. However, it is a testament to how good the filmmakers are here that the movie is still easy to follow and highly entertaining for someone who has never read the original story.
Now, you may have noticed that this movie has a subtitle. That pretty much always means one thing: there will be a sequel. The ending of this movie completely confirms that. "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" does have a satisfying ending of its own and does tell a complete tale, but it also very much sets up what one would expect will be an even more epic journey. So, fortunately, the movie doesn't suffer much from having planned sequels in that the story of this film is completed here, but it would be pretty disappointing to never get to see what happens next. Hopefully, the sequel will happen and the next adventure will be even better.
Still, "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" is a solid movie on its own. It starts off interestingly more of a comical horror movie than an epic adventure, but soon enough, the action and adventure elements come in to play. What is most surprising and appreciated is that the movie is one that can be taken seriously even with all the over-the-top comedy. In the end, "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" is a seriously epic adventure that just happens to also be very funny.