Monkey War (Review)
Monkey King and his friends encounter two con job fake priests, Spider Women with a Giant Fire-breathing Spider, and flying birdmen lead by shapeshifting bats. This is a collection of what looks like three episodes of a Journey to the West (or Monkey) Series combined into a movie. Problem is, the movie is is Chinese, with zero subtitles! I completely missed the giant “No Subtitles” sticker on the video box, totally enthralled by the painting of a giant flame-breathing spider on the video cover. Not knowing what’s going on in a movie isn’t a new phenomenon here at TarsTarkas.NET, even when the film is in English! Unlike the trickle of Turkish cinema that pops around without any subtitles at all, this time we got the movie’s number. Armed with a Chinese-speaking girlfriend (HI, Honey!) we trudged bravely forward. There is also a second advantage, with a film involving a story with such history as this, it’s easy to find some further information online, so that will be stop number one!
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION!!:
Sun Wukong the Monkey King (who has like a bajillion names because he keeps getting names) is the most famous fictional Chinese character (Hey, Wong Fei Hung was a real person) from the classical Chinese novel Journey to the West. Monkey King is a guy who is always in trouble, and soon makes problems both on earth and with the gods in heaven. After being trapped under a mountain by Buddha, Monkey King was allowed out when he offered to help a Tang Priest named Tangseng (or Xuanzang) retrieve some Buddhist sutras from India. The bodhisattva Guanyin (aka the Goddess of Mercy) helped Tangseng by giving him a magical headband which he got the Monkey King to wear. It was a trick as Tangseng can cause the headband to tighten by saying a chant, Monkey King can’t remove it, and it’s the only way to make him behave. Tangseng has another problem, he’s a super-handsome guy, and legend has it that if you eat his flesh you will become immortal. This leads every idiot with a fork to try to eat Tangseng, when they aren’t trying to marry him. Being a priest and a pacifist, he can’t marry or fight back, but thanks to Monkey King and his two other protectors he is safe. The other two accompaniers are the Pig guy named Pig or Zhu Bajie, and the Sand Monk Sha Wujing. Pig is a pig man who loves to eat, love to love women, and generally gets in trouble for his sins. He is also armed with a rake, being a former general in Heaven. Sand Monk is also a former general in Heaven. After being exiled for breaking a vase, he became a people-eater until he became a disciple of Tangseng. You got all this?
That’s not going to help nearly as much as I thought it would…
We start with our intrepid band on their way in search of the sutras about to meet their wacky adventure of the week. They run across what looks like a scene out of Biblical Moses-time Egypt, with Chinese slaves being forced to build structures for some overlords. The oppressed masses ask Monkey King for help (I do believe…) and soon they are tangled in intrigue and suspense. Well, not really suspense. Monkey King, Pig, and Sand Monk wander into the temple, where they see the food offering for the Three Wise Men Buddha thing that I don’t know anything about, not being Buddist. The two head priests come in, flanked by several dozen minor priests. The three heroes quickly jump into disguises — as the three Buddha statues! The Head Priests begin singing some priest song with the chorus “De ling ling” which is pretty catchy. It’s still running through my head. It’s a pretty long song that is the priests’ way of saying a spell to get rid of evil, so I am told. The three heroes go through a series of gags where they almost get seen moving, then have a big reveal where they claim to be the actual statues come to life. They offer the priests some special Holy Water, which is actually Pig’s urine. After the Priests wash and drink with it, it’s revealed and the three run off.
It’s not over that easily, the two fake priests challenge Priest Tangseng to a contest to see who is the real powerful priests. Tangseng doesn’t do magic, but is reluctantly brought into it due to Monkey King’s persuasion. The Two Fake Priests go first, where they sing their song and up in Heaven a couple of gods or fairies show up. They are: Wind, Rain, Thunder, and Lightning. They start to help the Fake Priests, making me wonder that they aren’t that fake after all. But they are Evil, and gods helping them ticks off Monkey King something fierce. As he’s no stranger to running up to Heaven to beat up gods, he disembodies himself above and starts cracking some deity heads. The four gods agree to stop helping the Fake Priests. At this moment the two Fake Priests are calling for rain. I think you know where this is going….Monkey Pee! Oh, Monkey King, you so crazy! Now it’s Tangseng’s turn, and Monkey King tells him to just act like he knows what he’s doing. He starts bumbling around, and soon Rain turns into a dragon and makes it rain. This infuriates the followers of the two Fake Priests, who start trouble, and the local Governor’s men attack them. There is a big battle, and the two Fake Priests use magic to teleport away in the confusion. The day is saved, and out group of heroes head off for new adventures!
Next week, on Monkey War: The two Fake Priests enter a house, which is full of spiders. Big spiders. Big spiders that turn into beautiful women! Same Monkey time, Same Monkey Channel. Because it’s the same Monkey Movie, Monkey War!
The spider women turn their complex into a large palace ground full of giggling girls to better lure Our Heroes to their doom. Tangseng goes to investigate the palace first, but is chocked when served food with a human hand in it! He panics but is quickly caught by a web shot by one of the spider women, Big Sister Spider. Pig is the next to fall in the trap, he encounters a gaggle of spider women bathing, and quickly tries to join them. Instead, he gets blasted with web and left suspended in the webbing by the waterfall. The Sand Monk and Monkey King find him dangling, which shows the spiderwomen either don’t eat every man, or they are Jewish or Islamic thus cannot ingest pork. Tangseng either lucks out or has worse luck, as instead of Big Sister Spider eating him, she now plans to marry him. Monkey King and the others break in to rescue him, but Big Sister Spider has hypnotized Tangseng into thinking that he is in love with her. He also tells the gang that all of the women are pretty, so they should each choose whichever they want to marry.
Monkey King ain’t hearing this, and they fight to try to kidnap Tangseng at the wedding. It’s a very traditional wedding flair, decked up in the classical Chinese way, so it doesn’t skimp on set decorations. The women don’t take too kindly to the interruption, and start turning into large spiders and back while fighting the team. The spider women also spit fire out of their mouths, pull magic rods out of thin air, spit lasers, and spit webbings. Basically, spider women spit a lot. Big Sister Spider becomes a huge spider and is ridden by another spider girl. The huge spider spouts flames and smoke from it’s mouth, justifying my rental of the tape based solely on that image on the cover. Monkey King turns the flame table around and sets the huge spider on fire itself. They win the day, but Tangseng is still hypnotized. They need to cure him. They chose….BY DANCE! Sand Monk dances a funky groove but it fails to do the job, so Monkey King just zaps him, which does the job. Also, the two fake priests escape again in the chaos.
Next week, on Monkey War: The two Fake Priests are accosted by flying, bearmasked, armored men with axes who look straight out of the He-Man universe! This leads to new dangers for Monkey King and his friends, next week! Same Monkey time, Same Monkey Channel. Because it’s the same Monkey Movie, Monkey War! Okay, last time I promise.
When last we left, Monkey King and his group were continuing their journey west, while the two Fake Priests were accosted by flying, bearmasked armored men. The head of the flying men has his hair done up in two buns, angled like he’s got Mickey Mouse ears. They take the two Fake Priests to their king, a goofy old man who changes position in his throne at the drop of a hat. With his long, curly white hair and mustache he looks like some sort of twisted Santa Claus. He brings out his daughter, who looks like not only was she beaten with every stick on the ugly tree, but she was buried in the ugly hole, hit by the ugly car, shot by the ugly gun, and weedwacked by the ugly groundskeeper. Played by a man, the daughter is cruising for a husband, and two eligible bachelors just strolled in the castle. To escape, the two Fake Priests spill the beans about the handsome Tangseng. Soon a plot is hatched. I had no clue what was happening for a bit until I was explained to that they were planning to frame Monkey King until Tangseng gets rid of him. The baddies turn Mickey Mouse Hair into a girl (It’s just an illusion) so she (he) now goes down where Monkey King is, and Monkey King ends up killing her (him.) Pig asks why, but Monkey King knew there was trouble brewing, but before he can prove it to Pig, the body vanishes and Mickey Mouse Hair is back in the castle unharmed. Monkey King and Pig fight, then Tangseng prays to activate the magical headband to punish Monkey King (remember what I told you earlier?) as Monkey King is usually to blame for trouble anyway. So murder is only punishable by getting a helmet blast for a few seconds. I see, I see…
Hey, let’s frame Monkey King for more murder! Ugly Daughter becomes an old man, who is now less ugly, and pretending to look for his daughter, who was the illusion Monkey King killed earlier. Monkey King fights this guy as well, who also “dies” and vanishes, 100% well back home. More punishment for Monkey King! Now, the Goofy King becomes an old woman, this old woman looks just like Klinger from M*A*S*H. Klinger woman tries to get Monkey King to kill her, but Monkey King has learned his lesson. So Klinger woman does one better, she just leaps off a cliff! No one believes Monkey King this time, and he’s zapped again, which causes him to run away. Now Tangseng is without his greatest protector, and he’s quickly stolen. Geez, Pig and Sand Monk, were you sleeping on the job? Well, at least they noticed Tangseng is missing. They gank some flying bear costumes off of two guards and zoom off into the clouds to the castle. Wait…IT’S A TRAP! Big fight with the flying soldiers, with some cool choreography as the fliers zoom around on wires. This was pretty impressive. Pig is thrown out, and he lands on the ground and is captured by Monkey People. The Monkey People take Pig to where Monkey King is staying, but Monkey King won’t help him. Pig says something that causes lots of dramatic music and close-ups, which changes Monkey King’s mind. So he’s off!
Rescue Fight! Meanwhile, the Goofy King is going to write something on Tangseng’s chest? Okay… Meanwhile, Monkey King and Pig are fighting their way to the castle. They reach inside and the evil royals join the melee. Ugly Daughter fights with some disturbing breast attacks. The battle rages further and moves back outside, where Ugly Daughter does more breast attacks, until MK pops her boobs to stop the nonsense. That fails, as she just reinflates them! Monkey has brought the Monkey People to help in the battle, and the combined forces start to turn the tide. The Goofy King and Ugly Daughter are revealed in their true forms, Giant Bats! The villains all run inside their castle, but the Monkey People blast is with eyebeams until the castle crumbles into rubble. The Giant Bats escape and fly into space, followed by Monkey King and the Monkey People. Everyone is destroyed in the ensuing battle except Monkey King. Tangseng is rescued, and they have a tearful apology and make up. Soon, the group is back on their way, ready for next week’s adventures. That won’t be here, as this movie has ended. Guess I’ll have to track down the next three episodes combined into a movie.
Hey, it looks like this review is coming to a close. I’d like to thank the painter of the video case cover for adding the flame-spitting spider, and my girlfriend for telling me what was going on thanks to the no subtitles. It’s also good to know that it’s not just Americans that combine TV show episodes into movies (aka Master Ninja or Fugitive Alien.) This was fairly enjoyable despite the lack of understanding half of what was going on. Monkey King is pretty popular and I’ve encountered him several times before, including on the TV series Wishbone and Steve Chow’s two Chinese Odyssey movies.
UPDATE: It turns out that Monkey War is an actual film and not parts of a tv show. Monkey War was made at the same time as another film called New Pilgrims to the West that deals with the other two main Journey to the West stories.
Rated 5/10 (Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance!!!)
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