Netflix at Random: Journey To The West

by Jeffrey P. Martin

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Netflix at Random is an ongoing series of posts where Jeffrey P. Martin (me) watches Netflix movies and shows at random. These movies will be things that other people haven’t recommended. Sometimes there will be some level of knowledge of the movie, such as with this movie. I know a little about this movie before I watched it. I knew:
1) It’s directed by Stephen Chow, director of
Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer, which I love both of.
2) And it’s based on
The Journey To The West, which is the Chinese classic epic about bringing the Buddhist scriptures to China, which I also love. I also love the book Monkey: a Folk tale of China translated by Arthur Waley, which is 30 of the original 100 stories. 

Journey to the West directed by Stephen Chow is a Chinese action movie based on the classic epic of the same name. It starts with a huge action piece about a monstrous fish attacking a village. It sets the tone of the rest of the movie, and for the most part, upstages most of the rest of the movie. This scene is the most enjoyable part. Big village fight scene, mixed with a monster attacking and trying to eat people, while demon hunters try and destroy the monster. It’s silly and fun, everything you expect from Stephen Chow.

The story focuses on Miss Duan and Xuan Zang. Zang is a demon hunter who tries to use Buddhism to transform the demons back to being good, releasing them of their evil. It doesn’t quite go according to plan, at any point during the whole movie, and Miss Duan has to save his butt repeatedly. This is a running joke, if ever there was one.

As a whole the movie centers around four basic action sequences that move the plot forward while also being pretty bad ass. It’s filled with impressive, and intentionally silly action sequences and stays true, for the most part, to the original tale, while infusing it with Stephen Chows recognizable style.

The characters are interesting, but would probably feel lacking had I not had previous knowledge of the story before going into this movie. The dialogue, however, is bad. Like, b-rated horror movies are less contrived. One of the main demon hunters, Miss Duan, is a woman and at first you think she’s a badass and then they turn her character into a love sick puppy and it’s, honestly, really sexist. She throws out dialogue along the lines of: “oh I just want to get married.” Sad to see this sort of belittling from Stephen Chow. It’s clearly meant to be funny, but it’s mostly just insulting.


Good qualities:

  • Fun action sequences with unique characters and settings.
  • Cool ideas being channeled into this project.
  • Nice to see other classics, besides just American or European ones.
  • Zhang Wen was pretty awesome, and when Qi Shu wasn’t saying horribly written sexist garbage, she was quite wonderful as well.


Bad qualities:

  • Really poorly written dialogue (maybe poorly translated? Who knows).
  • Some of the absolute worst CGI you will see in any movie. One IMDB reviewer praised this movie for its CGI, and I literally cannot fathom how they thought it was good CGI. This clunker came out in theaters for god sakes, in one of the biggest film markets in the world, and was a huge success there and made 215 million in the worldwide market. That’s not a small chunk of change. The computer graphics are worse than what you see on SyFy, and that’s pretty embarrassing. If Sharknado is upstaging  a $215 million blockbuster film you know your movie looks bad.
  • Really horrible make up. They should have hired the woman from Wyrmwood she would have done a better job. It seems that the Monkey King, Sun Wukong, is one of the worst parts. Yes, I know that he is an amalgamation of CGI and practical effects, but it’s one of the worst uses I’ve ever seen.


Overall this movie was a huge disappointment for me because I love Stephen Chow, and Journey To The West (the book) and wanted this to be a wonderful blending of two things that I love. Like if Quentin Tarantino made a Star Wars film—high expectations. Instead it’s a low budget, poorly thought out, horribly written action movie without any heart. Did I mention that there is singing in this movie? For no explicable reason.


Spend your two hours watching Kung Fu Hustle or Shaolin Soccer, or fuck it, read Monkey translated by Arthur Waley, or the original Journey To The West.

Seriously, don’t waste your time on this epic dud.

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