The Monkey King: Reborn is a movie about demons, monsters, ghosts, humans, deities, immortals, and spirits. If you think that sounds like a lot to cover in an hour and a half, you’d be absolutely correct. The movie chooses to gloss over its own mythology for a lesser defined version of the hero’s journey, resulting in a movie with stunning visuals but not much else.
This fantastical world is beautiful, and the cast of characters who populate it are interesting, although we don’t really know anything about them. Wujing, Bajie, and Sun Wukong are the three main characters. They’re all demons and the only information about them is delivered via short lines of throwaway descriptions: a hateful demon, a greedy monster, and an ignorant devil. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you which of those descriptions apply to which characters.
The Monkey King – aka Sun Wukong – sets things in motion when he destroys a tree that bears fruit that extends a person’s life by 47,000 years. Unbeknown to him, the first demon Primordium was imprisoned below the tree. With the destruction of the tree, Primordium is released. The demon kidnaps their master and flees. The three unlikely heroes must now rescue their master and imprison the demon.
This movie acts as if all these supernatural things are a regular occurrence without any context, leaving viewers unfamiliar with these stories with several questions. The three demons have a master called the Golden Cicada – he appears to be human – yet we don’t know how they came to be under his tutelage much less what they hope to learn from him. This world is one where deities must wait to have an application filled out in order to enter the gates of heaven. It’s all very interesting, but none of it make a whole lot of sense.
Similarly, when Wujing, Bajie, and Sun Wukong enter a human village no one seems to react to them at all. In fact, many of the villagers think the pig demon is a regular pig asking one another, “whose pig is this?” There are a several sequences that show our heroes walking everywhere, yet we’re shown that they can leap great distances in a single bound, fly or travel by nimbus cloud. Again, why is this story treating its characters as if they’re human when they’re so much more interesting.
The story leaves much to be desired, making the visuals the focal point of this movie. And I’m not talking about just the action. The animation in this movie is out of this world. The opening of the film contains some of my favorite imagery. Wujing narrates the creation of heaven and earth with illustrations that resemble ancient Chinese paintings. CGI ink/watercolors are used to transition from one image to the next. The usage of light and shadows are spectacular here adding a level of depth to each image.
The showdown between Sun Wukong and Primordium has all the over-the-top action found in anime such as Dragonball Z, but the composition of some of these shots are epic. Especially when The Monkey King goes Super Saiyan. The lighting highlights so much of the animation, and the use of elemental textures such as fire, magma, and lightning make him look even cooler. If the painstaking attention to detail wasn’t enough already, just look at the metal work on the ends of his bo staff, or the patterns on the robes, clothing, and armor. I really wish I could have seen this in a larger format.
While I will probably choose Kung Fu Panda over The Monkey King: Reborn every day of the week, I can’t get over how much I wish Kung Fu Panda looked like The Monkey King: Reborn.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: The Big Comic Page was provided a preview copy of the film and the disc does not contain any bonus material except the trailers for The Monkey King: Reborn and other upcoming movies. Also the movie has an all-new English dub, which I prefer to the Mandarin audio, since the English voice actors have a lot more emotional range.
The Monkey King: Reborn is available on Digital, Blu-ray and DVD December 7, 2021.
The writer of this piece is: Laurence Almalvez
Laurence tweets from @IL1511