The ZONE genre worldwide books movies
the science fiction
fantasy horror &
mystery website
 
 
home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email

Monkey Magic (2007)
Director: Kensaku Sawada

review by Sarah Ash

A young priest is sent to India (the west) to find the holy sutras, accompanied by the mischievous Monkey, Son Goku, a kappa (water spirit), and a lecherous pig.

The ancient Chinese tale of the Journey To The West has inspired many retellings over the last few years, especially in the field of manga and anime, ranging from Akira Toriyama's brilliantly ebullient Dragonball to mangaka Kazuya Minekura's stylish bishonen-heavy interpretation, Saiyuki. Damon Albarn's musical theatre-piece Monkey has dazzled audiences worldwide recently and brought in many new enthusiasts who were too young to see the original Japanese TV serial of the same name when it was first screened on British television in the early 1980s.

I was one of those viewers who enjoyed the original TV series of Monkey, way back then, in spite of - or maybe because of? - its wince-inducing English dub, exuberant acting, and eastern folklore-based storytelling. So I was looking forward to Monkey Magic which announces itself as having been '30 years in the making.'

I was disappointed, therefore, after a stylish opening using shadow puppets, to find myself wondering if I was mistakenly watching an episode of Power Rangers. The Sanzo quartet meets plucky young Princess Reimi (Mikako Tabe) who begs them to help her free her land from the evil goblin warlords Gold Horn and Silver Horn. They have transformed the king and queen, her parents, into 'terrapin tortoises' in their search for a mysterious orb which will drain the light from the world, creating perpetual darkness fit for evil goblin deeds.

In the original series of Monkey, the priest was played by Masako Natsume (a beautiful actress who died tragically young) and the tradition is repeated here - only there is no gender ambiguity here as we are told from the start (in the translation, at any rate) that this Sanzo (Eri Fukatsu) is a priestess.

The opening scenes, where the princess and her army appear in a cloud of dust, riding across the desert, are very striking, raising hopes that we might be in for an epic adventure. Unfortunately, these hopes are dashed as the story rapidly descends into childish farce. Our hero, Monkey, Goku, is portrayed by Shingo Katori with such an irritating repertoire of mannerisms that it soon becomes impossible to care whether he helps Princess Reimi to succeed in her quest or not. Even a snow scene in which Reimi and Goku lob snowballs at each other (evidently designed to show the growing friendship between them) fails to convince. The sly humour and amusing banter of the original version has been lost; perhaps, in aiming for a feature-length film, the writers were just not up to the task of developing the material. Monkey is, after all, the rascally hero of these tales; if he is nothing more than a caricature, and his companions Pigsy and Sandy are reduced to minor roles, this plot is just too flimsy to hold the interest for two long hours. And the action sequences? They seem to have come straight from the Power Rangers acrobatic school of fighting; not that there's anything wrong with that, except that I expected something more.

So, in spite of the colourful costumes and some attractive sweeping landscape shots, I suspect that fans of the original series will, like me, feel that an opportunity has been missed. Or perhaps there are subtleties that have been lost in translation...
Monkey Magic

Please support this
website - buy stuff
using these links:
Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com

home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email
copyright © 2001 - 2009 Pigasus Press