Taking place 500 years after the Havoc in Heaven, the Tang Priest is appointed by Buddha to go to the West to fetch the sacred scriptures, only to accidentally free the Monkey King. With Lady White (Gong Li) aiming to break up the team assembled to defeat her, the Monkey King must fight in order to save his world! Action choreography by Sammo Hung.
Ever feel like you've just walked into the middle of a story and you can't figure out where the heck you are? That feeling reminds me of one of my favorite moments in 'The Big Lebowski' where Walter starts railing on Donny comparing him to a small child who walks into a movie and wants someone to explain to him what's going on. That feeling is prevalent right from the get go with the Chinese action/Fantasy yarn 'The Monkey King 2.' Not seeing the first film puts the audience at a slight disadvantage, but after a bit of time, the fog surrounding the characters and past events clears out and a wild and entertaining movie is revealed.
When the goddess of compassion Guanyin (Kelly Chen) calls upon a simple monk Tang Seng (William Feng) to travel to the east and retrieve the sacred scrolls of Buddha, she knew the monk would need a bit of help. Who better to help a simple man than a powerful disgraced god trapped under a mountain? Freeing The Monkey King (Aaron Kwok) from his imprisonment, Guanyin calls upon the mischievous god to protect Tang Seng and in doing so, regain his honor. A simple task for a mere mortal is complicated by the unearthly powers of The White-Boned Demon (Li Gong). Even after battling all of the gods and generals of heaven, the Monkey King may have met his match.
As the second half of the Chinese novel 'Journey to the West,' 'The Monkey King 2' is far and away from being a stand-alone sequel. It's probably best to think of this particular film as a continuation to 'The Monkey King.' Sitting down to this film it didn't take me long to realize I was out of my element. There are several references to the previous film that will likely leave the uninitiated viewer perplexed and in a near-constant state of "what the heck is going on" - unless you have seen that first film. Without the previous film at my disposal, I had to do a quick bit of research in order to feel somewhat caught up enough to enjoy this movie fully. That said, even if you haven't seen the first film and are willing to forgive what seem like logic lapses most action/fantasy/martial arts film fans should have a pretty damn good time with this cartoonish entertaining flick.
I will readily admit that it was more than a bit strange to come into a story halfway in and have to figure out what was going on. I hate having to run things through Google to "get" what I am seeing, but I truly wanted to enjoy what was happening within 'The Monkey King 2.' The film's manic energy and impressive visuals were too engrossing not to give the film its due respect. I sincerely wish a copy of the first film 'The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven's Palace' had also been released by Well Go USA, it might have gotten a wider release. The film is readily available for purchase, at HDD we weren't given a screener by whoever released it making this a slightly awkward film to cover. That said, if you're already well aware of the story or were lucky enough to see the first film, I can imagine you enjoying the hell out of this one. It is an inventive and fun film.
I love a good fantasy yarn that knows not to take itself too seriously. 'The Monkey King 2' is just pure fun, plain and simple. The big budget effects and impressive makeup work and set design just add more flavor to the fun. It's a relatively simple "Heroes Journey" story but it also has a welcome amount of heart and character. The Monkey King is a god who shirked responsibility and must learn how to gain respect and honor by holding to his word and that his actions have consequences. At the same time, the simple monk Tang Seng must also find within himself a god-like amount of courage to face the trials coming his way. If you want the simplest comparison to frame things, think of the Arthurian legends and the search for the holy Grail with a dash of 'The Lord of the Rings' crossed with the energy and fun of a Stephen Chow film. While this isn't an accurate comparison, it's quite possibly the easiest way to set expectations for 'The Monkey King.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Monkey King 2' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA and is pressed onto a Region A BD-50 disc. Housed in a standard snapper Blu-ray case with identical slip cover, the disc loads to trailers for upcoming home video and theatrical releases from Well Go USA before arriving at a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. A slip advertising other Blu-ray/DVD releases from Well Go USA is also included.
The digitally sourced 2.35:1 1080p transfer for 'The Monkey King' is a pretty beautiful piece of work! The image is impressively detailed - all you have to do is look at the extensive makeup and prosthetic work on Aaron Kwok to appreciate the image quality. Colors are bright and vibrant favoring the warmer golden tones. Even with a more yellowish tone, primaries have a lush pop and presence to them. Black levels are impeccable with deep inky blacks and great shadow separation to provide a nice three-dimensional effect to the images. As this was originally shown in theaters in 3D, the image tends to have a sort of "in your face" quality to it where effects and objects tend to hover in the foreground with something slightly in the middle background. Sometimes these effects can look a little odd in 2D, but they're not altogether distracting. Occasionally there is a little bit of motion blur here and there, particularly when an action scene features a number of practical elements against CGI with some panning camerawork, otherwise, there is very little to complain about with this release - other than the lack of a 3D viewing option. I really wish Well Go USA would start issuing these Asian market releases with their respective 3D counterparts as so many of these films were clearly designed with those effects in mind. As it stands, this is a pretty beautiful 2D presentation.
In true epic fashion, 'The Monkey King 2' arrives with a thunderingly layered and beautiful Cantonese Dolby Atmos track. As I am unfortunately unable to run Atmos, the track automatically scales back to DTS-HD MA 7.1. Even without the full Atmos experience, this is a beautifully immersive audio mix. Any time the Monkey King decides to fly around, take out a tiger, fight a dragon, the concussive surround effects are gloriously rendered allowing for equal spacing of dialogue, scoring, and sound effects. Throughout, dialogue is clean and clear without any issues. Atmospherics work to create a lush auditory environment that keeps the surround channels constantly engaged. Likewise, imaging is effective as there is near-constant channel movement in some form or another. Even during the film's quieter moments, there is plenty of activity. Also included is a Cantonese Dolby True-HD 2.0 mix that you can skip because it's just not anywhere near as effective. A Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is included, but since the Cantonese Atmos track defaults to DTS-HD MA 7.1 anyway, this Mandarin track - while perfectly decent and effective in its own ways - is a bit redundant as the 7.1 is just a richer experience.
Making of: (HD 15:06 ) Comprised of The Monkey King, The Monk, Bajie, Wujing, A New World, these sadly very brief features cover various aspects of the production from the costuming and makeup to the extensive digital effects work. For such an impressive production, it would have been cool to see some more extensive making-of material, but at a total of 15 minutes, this isn't terrible.
Trailer: (HD 2:08)
If you're at all curious about 'The Monkey King 2,' it's a pretty good idea to go out and find yourself a copy of 'The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven's Palace.' While you won't be altogether "lost" without seeing the first film, I can only guess that it would provide a better context for events than having to look up story details like I had to. Just the same, 'The Monkey King 2' is a wildly entertaining movie that shows the Chinese market can compete with the scale Hollywood's own big summertime blockbusters. Well Go USA releases 'The Monkey King 2' on Blu-ray with an absolutely stellar A/V presentation. Sadly bonus features are a bit on the slim side of things. That said, since you really need to see the first one, I recommend people see this film, but I'm calling it one for the fans.