Monkey Magic Review

The Film

Nothing makes me feel more old than young people ruining all the things that I loved when I was their age. High on my hitlist are cover versions of great songs emptied of all feeling by soulless singing and the plethora of remakes trying to rediscover movies and TV for the yoof of today. Presumably, the assumption is that young people are too lazy to seek out the original product which is merely a google away, or too delicate to put up with things that aren't shiny and new. I really do fear for younger generation with all the reheated garbage they are forced to consume.
The TV series Monkey is a part of my youth that is almost entirely to blame for my obsession with Japanese movies. Now I do know that the original story is Chinese, and I do know and rather like the previous Chinese adaptations of it, but for juxtaposing the plain weird and the oddly meaningful Monkey has come to represent part of the draw of that nation's culture for me. Monkey was camp, rather over excitable and a unsophisticated mishmash of Buddhism and some knockabout action. The fact that it got re-packaged with a fake Asian narration to help to explain the incomprehensible stories only made it strangely enticing in its patchwork quilt of cultures.

The best thing about Monkey was that it was like nothing else on TV, it was not predictable or indeed sensible and it opened up a world that was unlike standard kiddies telly for many a perverse child. In learning that someone had decided to take the story and re-imagine it for todays audience, I hoped that a little of the originals charm or its clear madness would be preserved. Well my hopes were dashed by Monkey Magic, a plasticated, ignorant and insulting re-tread that plays down to the kids of today in the worst possible way.
In the original series, Monkey was an incorrigible scrapper who had to learn to sort out his problems through more adult means. This usually meant that his master would cut him down to size with a quick sutra to cause him a splitting headache while delivering a rather hypocritical lecture on how solving problems by causing pain wasn't the right thing to do. In effect, Monkey was the naughty child and his master the adult teaching him the ways of righteousness. For the young viewer, Monkey had a misbehaving charm which made him very attractive, and the moral tone desired by vigilant parents was delivered by Tripitaka.

In this remake, Monkey is a shouty yob whose single redeeming feature is his loyalty to his friends. Where the original had an oafish social clumbsiness, his modern self is a historical equivalent of a happy slapper working his way up to an ASBO. Worse still, is the stubborn refusal to acknowledge that Monkey is indeed a monkey as this bleach blonde representation may climb a tree and fancy a banana, but these are the sole indications that his name in fact is a literal description of his being. This even extends itself to an implied romance between the ape god and a human princess which surely breaks several laws of taste or nature.

Monkey and Tripitaka are helping the princess I mention to fight two evil demons who are stealing sunlight. The two demons are dressed up like Gladiators, I mean the TV series, and examples of a tendency in the costumery which owes more to lycra and polyester than the historical period. Monkey and co must face off the rubberised monsters and change the king and queen back into human form from their current tortucan shape. There are badly choreographed battles along the way and some far from hilarious japes, all delivered with an awful musical accompaniement which tries to make the film sound like a video game.
In fact the loudness and gaudiness of Monkey Magic make me wonder just what age group this is aimed at. The impact of the film is meant to be garish and earsplittingly obvious, and any of the odd cross cultural fun of the story is lost by a lack of wit. This means that where the camp of the original TV series was played up, the modern variant ends up looking unintentionally foolish by playing it straight. A good example of this is the nailbiting finale where computer generated chaos is piled on to impress the viewer whilst laughable moments such as two tortoises being threatened by a cutlass are presented with equal earnestness.

In the end though, Monkey Magic is morally myopic and creatively bankrupt. The religious pilgrimage at the heart of the original story is cheapened and replaced by a moral that it doesn't matter what you do as long as you're popular with the cool kids. This film says be loud, be rude, and cross the species barrier as long as you're having fun. Normally, I'd appreciate such a message but I believe the groping for moral profundity here is offensively ignorant rather than satirical, it is the kind of sloganeering that is more suited to the promotion of washing powder.

Monkey Magic left me feeling very old.

Transfer and Sound

The transfer is encoded using the AVC MPEG4 codec and presented at 2.35:1. This is such a gaudy looking film that I did wonder if the transfer was to blame but contrast and brightness do seem very solid indeed. Colours are vibrant, but detail is a little lacking especially when examining the faces of the characters. There isn't a stunning sense of depth to this transfer but it is quite competent with an absence of edge enhancement and adequate sharpness.
No HD sound options here, I am afraid and the 5.1 mix offered here is far from detailed or impressive. This is a loud movie, but the sound comes over as muddy and sounds suppressed and the surround mix adds little in the way of atmosphere or directionality. There is also a stereo track and the English subtitles are removable and very clear and well translated.

Discs and Special Features

The transfer uses up 95% of the used capacity of this single layer disc with a filesize of 16.6GB. The remaining extras are a little underwhelming with a one page crib note on the source novel, Journey into the West, TV spots and trailers for the film. Similarly, the menu design is rather dull with art of the four leading characters used with the few options on show.


Unless you are a small child, I can't see you wanting to buy this disc, and if you are a small child with a blu-ray player, then I envy you and GET TO BED. Far more fun is to be had, going back to the Japanese TV series of the late seventies or Ho Meng Hwa's Chinese opera versions of these tales.

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