HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Monkey King 2
HTS Overall Score:84
Fairytales and archetypal fantasy are as binding and universal as mathematics across multiple cultures. We all have myths and fold legends about heroic (and sometimes not so heroic) characters that are larger than life. Some are SEEMINGLY supernatural while others blatantly so, but they all share a common thread. The ability for the common man to look up to someone who is better than they are and have something to aspire to (or in some cases to be scared away from doing/being). The Monkey King is probably China’s most favored and retold folk legend, rising up to the level of Paul Bunyan or even the more religious tales of our western culture. We’ve seen him before in several other Hong Kong films (or even some Americans, as Jet Li had the chance to play the impish spirit in “The Forbidden Kingdom” opposite Jackie Chan) but he’s had a new resurgence as of late. Sadly, this sequel to the new “reboot” is the only Blu-ray we’re going to get for the foreseeable future as the predecessor, “The Monkey King: Havoc In Heaven’s Palace” hasn’t had an official release stateside. I did find a Blu-ray on Amazon and a listing on Blu-ray.com, but by all accounts, it is a burned disc and doesn’t seem to come from a reputable studio so I would be more inclined to believe it’s a bootleg.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the tale of the Monkey King, he’s a bit of an impish Chinese sub deity who has a tendency for mucking things up. Thousands of years ago, he was banished from heaven due his selfishness and propensity for doing things his own way. Supposedly he was an earthly being/demon back in the ancient Chinese dynasties and his superb strength and magical transformation abilities gave him an advantage in the human world. Thinking that he could be controlled in heaven better than on earth, the Jade Emperor invited the Monkey King up into the ranks of the gods. Unfortunately, he’s not exactly accepted by many of the gods, and soon afterwards wreaks havoc in the heavenly kingdom. Years later, after the celestial battle between himself and the gods, the king is stuck under a mountain in the middle of the desert where a hapless monk by the name of Tang Seng (William Feng) stumbles upon him. After freeing the Monkey King from his charmed prison of rock, the mercy goddess herself (Kelly Chen) tasks the impish Monkey lord with protecting Tang Seng on his way to retrieve some ancient Buddhist scriptures in a far off monastery.
Along the way, Tang Seng and the Monkey King (Aaron Kwok) pick up a few more acolytes in the form of a pig demon name Bajie (Xiao Shen-Yang) and his blue skinned associate Shu Wujing (Him Law). Both of whom were also tasked by the mercy goddess in protecting and escorting the monk to his holy end. However, the road is not so easy as one would expect. Tang Seng has become the target of a Lady Bone Hand (Gong Li), a 1,000-year-old demon who wants to consume the Monks pure soul so that she can stop reincarnating and maintain her demon form for all of humanity. Then of course there is the cursed King who needs the blood of Tang Seng and the countless infighting amongst the acolytes themselves. The Monkey King and the monk butt heads more than a few times as the powerful monkey lord takes things into his own hands a bit too much, causing just as much havoc on earth as he did in heaven.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=87970[/img]“The Monkey King 2” sometimes strains the viewers minds as they try and keep up with the nuances of the story. Knowing as much about the history of the Monkey King as I do it was a little easier for me to grasp some of the quick leaps of logic, but casual viewers may find it a bit odd. The story is basically modeled after the old Chinese novel “Journey to the West”, but it takes a few changes and molds it into something new and unique as well. You really don’t HAVE to see “The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven’s Palace”, but it does introduce the character a little better and gives the viewer a baseline for the eccentricities of the monkey man which may seem odd at first glance.
Still, “The Monkey King 2” is a highly frenetic and energetic movie that has a lot to offer. Aaron Kwok is perfect as the Monkey King himself (Aaron also played a different character in the prequel to this film) and is quite compelling in his portrayal of the conflicted beast. Gong Li is deliciously evil as the twisted White Bone demon herself, and from a technical standpoint the film is stunning. The costume work and scenes are magnificent, and the usual weak link in Chinese films (the CGI) is quite breathtaking. There’s several moments where the CGI is a bit awkward and noticeable, but for a Chinese film it was light years above what most of their offerings are in that department. The action is stellar and the final fight between the bone demon and the rest is a blast to watch.
Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=87978[/img]The 2.39:1 AVC encoded Blu-ray is near about perfect. Shot on the Red Epic camera systems and given a 2K digital intermediary the film looks simply magnificent. The colors are bright and vivid with rich reds for the eyes of the white bone demon, and the luxurious whites of her outfits to contrast. The golden robes of the royal court and the staff of the Monkey King shimmer in the sun and there are so many shades in between that it is too much to recount. Fine detail is shockingly clear and sharp, with very few moments where there was any softness at all to the picture (although I did notice a few, especially when the cursed king and Tang Seng were sitting together). The CGI is always the weak spot of a Chinese shot film, but in this case, it is MUCH higher quality than I was expecting. Even the overly lumbering walking skeleton (and the mega skelly at the end) were rendered rather decently and didn’t blatantly distract from the image. Black levels are strong and healthy and banding is near nonexistent. Overall this is a stellar looking video encode.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=87986[/img]Well Go USA has really stepped up its game in the audio department recently. The very first object based next gen audio track was with the DTS:X track on “Ip Man 3”, but this is the very first Dolby Atmos track that Well Go USA has put on their releases so far. There is not only the Cantonese Atoms track but a full-fledged DTS-HD MA 5.1 track in Mandarin (which itself is quite pleasing as well) and the regular 2.0 Dolby Digital ones as well. I am mainly focusing on the Atmos Cantonese track here today as that is the original dialog (although, like most Chinese films, some of the actors will have ADR and dubs over their voices as many actors speak Mandarin while others Cantonese). The track is simply AMAZING from the very beginning, as the white tiger roars onto the scene and the Monkey King unleashes his joy at being set free. The surrounds and overheads get a wicked workout with all the chaotic action sequences and the LFE channels is just punishingly brutal in their intensity. Dialog is always firmly rooted in the center channel and the mix itself is well balanced. The action never overwhelms the dialog and the surrounds are blended seamlessly with the rest of the track. One of the best audio tracks Well Go USA has put out in their entire Blu-ray career.
• The "Making of" Featurretes
Some of “The Monkey King 2” needed a bit of backstory or explaining for the casual viewer, but I still had a blast with the frenetic action and absolutely beautiful visuals. The humor is cheeky and fun and the action is well choreographed and placed out in the film. I really like Aaron Kwok in the role of the impish King himself and Gong Li is still sight for sore eyes in any capacity. The audio and video for this is nothing short of amazing (demo disc for sure), but sadly the extras are a teensy bit on the slim side for my tastes. All we really have is a small “making of” set of featurettes and a few trailers to satiate us. Still, a fun movie and well worth a watch if you love fantasy Chinese action movies.
Starring: Aaron Kwok, Shaofeng Feng, Li Gong
Directed by: Pou-Soi Cheang
Written by: Wu Chengern (original story), Elvis Man, Ping Ran (screenplay)
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: Cantonese: Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Core), Cantonese DD 2.0, Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1, Mandarin DD 2.0
Studio: Well Go USA
Runtime: 120 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: January 3rd 2017
Buy The Monkey King 2 On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Fun Watch
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