Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is available on iTunes/VOD & theatrically in select markets March 7th from Magnet Releasing, so definitely check this film out.

When I heard that for his next film Stephen Chow was tackling the legend of The Monkey King I have to admit I was more than a little intrigued as to what his take would be. The Monkey King is a fixture of Chinese legend and is so popular that it has even leaked into Japanese culture as well, with more adaptations and interpretations on the legend than you can shake a magic staff at.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is a martial arts epic origin story if you will, since the film technically takes place before Xuan Zang got his disciples and embarked on his epic journey.

The film follows Xuan Zang (Wen Zhang) as a young monk who is searching for a “greater love” while trying to battle demons unsuccessfully with his book of 300 nursery rhymes. It’s during a fish demon attack on a village that he encounters an actual demon hunter Miss Duan (Qi Shu) who easily dispatches the demon using a mixture of mysticism and brute force Kung fu. This causes Xuan Zang to question his teacher’s methods of singing nursery rhymes to demons, to which his teacher dispatches the sullen monk to seek enlightenment.

It’s on his search Xuan Zang then happens upon a haunted restaurant controlled by a powerful pig demon. Xuan Zang can see past the illusion cast over the restaurant and see all the dead travelers the demon has killed who appear as simply patrons of the cursed establishment to normal people. He challenges the demon and luckily Miss Duan shows up to aid him, but the pig demon is too powerful for the two and manages to escape.

The two then reluctantly join forces, as Miss Duan develops romantic feelings for the monk as they attempt to defeat the pig demon by seeking out the legendary King of the Demons, The Monkey King, who will hopefully give them the key to their quest.

I first saw Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons on a Saturday morning at Fantastic Fest and honestly this is the perfect film to see on a Saturday morning, preferably with a big bowl of sugary cereal. The film is an adventure in the purest sense of the word, and has the slapstick humor you would expect from a Stephen Chow film that is reminiscent of some of the best Saturday morning had to offer.

Chow is behind the scenes this time as Producer, Director, Screenwriter and Action Choreography, but star Wen Zhang manages to perfectly channel the rascal in his performance as Xuan Zang. Shu Qi, as far as I am concerned, steals the show here whenever she is on screen the ass kicking Miss Duan. It’s always great when you have a strong female protagonist in a martial arts film that can take care of herself. Even though Miss Duan is in love with Xuan Zang, she still can hold her own and spends most of the film bailing out the monk.

The film is definitely a different take on demons than most westerners are probably used to in that they are as giant CG animals. The demons have become what they are due to the circumstances surrounding their tragic deaths. The portrayal of the demons and their almost cartoonish CG look balances out some of the darker aspects of the story, keeping the tone light and not taking away from the humor.

The comedy here is interspersed with some great action set pieces and truly brutal fight sequences, which will have you on the edge of your seat the entire time. I loved Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons; it was some of the most fun I had at Fantastic Fest and fares even better when revisited. The film perfectly blends action and humor in a way only a master like Stephen Chow can, delivering a kung fu epic not to be missed.

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