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The Monkey King 2
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The Monkey King

Aaron Kwok in The Monkey King 2.
Chinese: 西遊記之孫悟空三打白骨精  
Year: 2016
Director: Soi Cheang Pou-Soi
Producer: Kiefer Liu
Writer: Ran Ping, Ran Jianan, Elvis Man, Yin Yiyi
Action: Sammo Hung Kam-Bo

Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing, Gong Li, William Feng, Xiao Shenyang, Him Law, Kris Phillips, Kelly Chen, Brenda Li, Leah Wei, Giselle Chia, Meya, Cheng Dong, Peng Yu

The Skinny: Superior sequel to The Monkey King (2014) that benefits from a terrific performance from Gong Li as the villain. Aaron Kwok replaces Donnie Yen in the title role and it’s actually an improvement.
by Kozo:

Aaron Kwok returns in The Monkey King 2 – but hey, wasn't he the bad guy last time? No matter. Continuity be damned, Kwok takes on the mantle of Sun Wukong in this sequel to the 2014 fantasy epic The Monkey King, which starred martial arts superstar Donnie Yen in the title role. The casting switch is inspired for a number of reasons. For one, Kwok was unremarkable as antagonist King Bull, so it's not like him playing the hero here causes much dissonance. Moreover, Kwok brings the Monkey King's character to life better than Donnie Yen did. Yen was playful but too cuddly, while Kwok excels at both the Monkey's bashful mischievousness and his darker sides. Also, thanks to some creative makeup and costume design, Kwok manages to look like a monkey and himself, which is a step up from Donnie Yen's very simian-looking Sun Wukong. All around, the Yen-to-Kwok move is an improvement, and the movie is better than its predecessor too. Wow, when will the compliments end?

They won't but don't get too carried away. All things considered, The Monkey King 2 is competent if not very compelling Lunar New Year entertainment – basically an unassuming blockbuster that does its job cleanly without the issues plaguing other big-budget VFX-infused fantasy films like Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal or The White-Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom. Monkey King 2 kicks off the fateful meeting between the monk Xuanzhang (William Feng) and Sun Wukong (Kwok), as Xuanzhang frees Wukong from his prison beneath Five Elements Mountain. From then on, Wukong is tasked with protecting Xuanzhang on his journey to the west and, after some initial antagonism, the two are joined by demons Baijie a.k.a. Piggy (Xiao Shenyang) and Wujing a.k.a. Sandy (Him Law). Now complete, the group runs afoul of the film’s main villain: Lady White a.k.a. the White Bone Devil (Gong Li), who wishes to consume Xuanzhang’s flesh to remain immortal and not have to go through that pesky resurrection thing.

What follows are numerous encounters between Lady White and our four heroes as she attempts to wrest Xuanzhang from their protection. Distracting Baijie, who lusts after Lady White's female companions, and Wujing, who's more brawn than brain, is easy but Wukong is another matter. Thanks to his "fiery eyes", Wukong can see through illusions so Lady White uses the Monkey's violent nature as a means of sowing strife. Wukong often lashes out at villains that only he can see, causing Xuanzhang to punish him by shrinking his golden headband and causing him pain. This distrust between Wukong and Xuanzhang is the film's primary emotional conflict, with second place going to Xuanzhang's attempts at redeeming Lady White from her evil. Added up, this is a solid if unremarkable storyline that works thanks to good performances from Aaron Kwok and William Feng, whose Xuanzhang is sanctimonious but compellingly sincere. Xiao Shenyang is annoying but effective as comic relief while Him Law is surprisingly adept at playing muscular, blue-skinned supporting characters with little dialogue.

The key is Gong Li as Lady White. Gong's regal bearing and withering gazes are perfectly appropriate to an immortal antagonist like Lady White, and Gong brings sympathy to the character too. Whenever she appears onscreen the film's pace slows, but that's great because it allows the actress – who commonly appears in more prestigious or high-minded fare – to use her abundant skills for something a little more fanciful. Gong's drawn-out scenes don't fully cover up one nagging plot hole – i.e., whenever she corners Xuanzhang, she monologues or hesitates instead of just eating him right away, thereby allowing Wukong time to man up and ride to the rescue. However, this storytelling trope is common to commercial filmmaking (Roger Ebert calls it the Fallacy of the Talking Killer) and hey, the time spent with Gong Li is totally worth it even if she does consistently overshadow Aaron Kwok and William Feng. Gong’s presence in this sequel raises it to a higher level, which is more than could be said for Kwok and Chow Yun-Fat's presence in the first Monkey King.

Besides being a Gong Li showcase, Monkey King 2 suffices as a quality visual effects extravaganza. The production is set-bound like its predecessor but manages to make its digital environments more immersive and effective. It helps that the characters never visit Heaven, which looked terrible in the first Monkey King, and the film shows a nice sense of scale during the final confrontation between Sun Wukong and a very large CGI skeleton. Sammo Hung’s action is mostly of the “flying around in the air while fighting” variety but the action possesses a better flow and more intricate choreography than the first film. If the whole thing feels a little routine, that’s OK because it’s well within expectation for a fantasy action movie. Director Soi Cheang doesn’t create a memorable film but he does enough to make it reasonable to root for Aaron Kwok, William Feng and company to return in a few years for The Monkey King 3. Maybe they can get Donnie Yen back to play the bad guy. (Kozo, 3/2016)

Notes: • This review is based on the 2D version of the film.
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Kam & Ronson Enterprises
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on 2D+3D Blu-ray Disc
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