The universe has sent me a remedy after slugging through last week’s Toopy and Binoo The Movie. That medicine is Netflix’s The Monkey King, an action-packed fantasy that’s inspired by Chinese literature and works as a tribute to the comic humour of Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle, Journey to the West). Chow serves as an executive producer on The Monkey King – the production must’ve been tickled pink.
The Monkey King also borrows from previous children’s adventures; from Kung Fu Panda’s approach to staging hyper-choreographed fights, to using the dynamics of Hercules to influence the underdog banter, to examples from The Emperor’s New Groove to assist with creating the ideal anti-hero. People who are familiar with these animated classics from Dreamworks and Disney will be able to spot the reflections, but these similarities are not noticeable otherwise because of The Monkey King’s outrageous comedy. The situational quirkiness of Chow’s humour is perfectly applied to vulnerable characters, such as the villainous water-bound Dragon King (voiced by SNL’s Bowen Yang) who insists on being transported in a bathtub to stay moist or the titular primate (voiced by comedian Jimmy O. Yang of Netflix’s Love Hard) who depends on a mystic stick (voiced by Nan Li) for battle. Stick sounds like a mix between a didgeridoo and Star Wars’ R2-D2, and the gag cracked me up every time Stick “talked”.
The story is dense and, because so, the exposition seems intimidating at first. However, when it becomes apparent that the movie is, essentially, a collection of mini quests building towards an overarching search for the Monkey King’s immortality and respect from deity peers, any sort of tension towards the writing or direction is relieved. This allows the viewer to be more alert to the film’s other offerings, which include sharp visual flare, clever sight gags, and fun original tunes.
The Monkey King concludes with a pleasant and refreshingly healthy message of Buddhism regarding self-discipline and that patience is, indeed, a virtue. Ironically though, the film’s strengths work towards a wholehearted recommendation to check out The Monkey King during its current theatrical run instead of waiting patiently for it to hit Netflix at the end of the week (August 18).
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie