Review Date: 7/2/07
Mind boggling. Without a working knowledge of Chinese culture and folklore, you'll be completely lost watching this film. Needless to say, I was completely lost. From what I can tell, this is basically a film adaptation of a Chinese opera about the Monkey King and his "Journey To The West." The famous Buddhist monk Xuanzang is travelling across the country accompanied by Monkey King, Pig, and Taoist Wu Jing. It is rumored that eating Xuanzang's flesh grants immortality, and his passing by catches the attention of seven spider sisters. The sisters plot to kidnap and eat Xuanzang, but they have to deal with the crafty Monkey King first. Deception and betrayal are the order of the day, as all of the characters can assume different forms. Knowing this and how frequently it happens, I find it odd that no one ever suspects anyone of being a trickster in disguise. Oh well. As if battling the clever Monkey King wasn't bad enough, the spider sisters suffer from greed and betrayal in their own ranks. To even the odds, Pig manages to get his companions into plenty of trouble with his hunger, laziness, dim wit, and womanizing. Eventually, Monkey King prevails by unleashing the Seven Fires on the helpless spiders and utterly destroying them.
First of all, this was not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting something more along the lines of "Zu, Warriors From The Magic Mountain" (1983) or "Holy Flame Of The Martial World" (1983), but this movie is more about opera than fantasy. The characters even break into song on numerous occasions. The acting is comical and overly exaggerated, as you would expect from a stage play, and the fight scenes are extremely slow and deliberate in their execution. They're also accompanied by those ear-splitting gongs. The costumes and sets are very colorful and the production values are pretty high. Unfortunately, the visual effects are extremely tacky given the available technology at the time. The spider sisters are all quite lovely to behold and they dance and sing quite well. Purple Sister is by far the cutest of the bunch, and I found her presence riveting. Despite Monkey King's silly looking makeup, his physical performance is stunning and he can handle a staff pretty darn well. This is a hard film to recommend, but curiosity seekers and fans of Chinese folklore might find some value in it.