The Monkey King 2023 Movie Review
Greetings again from the darkness. Adapting literary works for the big screen is common practice; however, the stakes are a bit higher when dealing with a beloved classic Asian work that is more than 400 years old. “Journey to the West” was initially written during the Ming Dynasty and no original author has ever been confirmed. The stories were re-imagined for an English audience in 1942 by Arthur Waley and published as “Monkey”, and now director Anthony Stacchi and co-writers Steve Bencich, Ron J Friedman, and Rita Hsiao have brought their vision to the screen … focusing on one specific segment of the story.
Now, if that first paragraph sits a bit heavy, you should know this is an animated movie targeted at kids. It’s action-packed, colorful, and funny … all while packing a message or moral that most parents will appreciate. Much of the Chinese spiritual and philosophical and cultural aspects are included, but never so heavy-handed as to lose the attention of kids. In fact, if any aspect is somewhat overboard, it’s the martial arts fighting and action sequences … of which there are many. Possibly too many for some kids and some parents, and if the messages somehow get lost, it’s likely in the crash-boom-bang overdose because the action, while well done, is relentless.
Monkey King (voiced by comedian Jimmy O Yang) is birthed/sprung from a rock and has special powers. Unfortunately, he is not accepted by the local clan of monkeys, even after saving them from a threat. Instead, he turns his attention to being accepted into The Immortals (Gods of the animal world). To prove his worthiness, he sets out to defeat 100 demons, but along the way, we witness an oversized ego and lack of humility. Monkey King is simply not very likable. On this journey, he gains an assistant in his number one fan (not in a MISERY way) Lin (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport). Monkey King even treats her poorly.
The next best character, and Monkey King’s nemesis, is the underwater Dragon King (SNL’s Bowen Yang). Their exchanges and ego-wrangling are some of the best in the movie, and the underwater scenes provide a welcome CGI change of pace. With no family and his only friend being his magic stick, Monkey King is an outsider with special powers and the kind of attitude that gets junior high kids sent to the Principal’s office. No matter how many heroic feats he turns, his lust for power and lack of humility win him no points with The Immortals.
The Dragon King gets the best musical number, while Monkey King’s journey leads him through Buddha (BD Wong) and literally into both heaven and hades. The film’s big question is how long it will take Monkey King to learn humility and show kindness to others. As has been stated, an ego trip is a journey to nowhere … it’s a lesson this talented Monkey King must learn.