Films, Japan, Reviews, Sci Fi / Fantasy, Wuxia / Swordplay

Monkey Magic

The funkiest Monkey is back, in a whole new adventure with Tripitaka, Pigsy and Sandy…

Whilst on their quest to India, Buddhist monk Tripitaka (Eri Fukatsu) and his three protective disciples, Monkey (Shingo Katori), Pigsy (Atsushi Ito, Blood and Bones) and Sandy (Teruyoshi Uchimura), encounter a young princess Reimi (Tabe Minako). She convinces the help save her Tiger Kingdom from the absolute power of the brother demons King Gold Horn and Silver Horn. But all is not as it seems…

The enduring popularity of the Nippon TV series of the 1970s, Saiyūki, known as Monkey in the West, seems in little danger of dying out – despite not being on terrestrial screens for nearly 30 years! Somehow this good natured take on Wu Cheng’en’s classic Chinese novel Journey To The West still coverts new fans year-upon-year, and this new take on Saiyūki began as a Japanese TV series itself in 2006.

Essentially a reboot of the original 70s series, rather than a new look at the original novel, Monkey Magic captures much of the original spirit of the series. If most of the characters have remodelled for the noughties, including a blonde Monkey (not unlike the later appearance of Jet Li in The Forbidden Kingdom), then Eri Fukatsu as Tripitaka is the spit of the actress who played her originally. The series even included an appearance from the original Monkey, Masaaki Sakai.

Rather than produce a second season, however, the makers decided to take the new show to the big screen, and herein lies the problem with this film – keeping true to the lovable budget nature, but also creating a story worthy enough of a cinematic treatment. However hard it tries, it can’t help but come off like an over-extended episode, definitely not worthy of its close to two hour running time. Though the film often looks good, it can’t seem to escape it’s television origins, and that probably isn’t helped by the fact that director Kensaku Sawada’s experience has been entirely based in TV.

Monkey is his old self, as mischievous as ever with his over-blown ego, but even if he always was the lead, here the characters of Sandy and Pigsy are marginalised to little more few lines of dialogue. Indeed, it’s not a case of the actors not being as engaging as the original cast, though that’s true of Shingo as Monkey, neither Atsushi nor Teruyoshi really get the chance.

Instead, plenty of screen time is given to the character of Rin Rin (Asami Mizukawa, Dark Water), a pesky thief character invented for the new series (which will no doubt throw viewers who haven’t seen it first, as the character is given no introduction!) Indeed, hardcore fans of the original series may be irritated by what few changes have been made. (For instance, there’s no Yu Lung, the dragon that disguised itself as Tripitaka’s horse.)

At least there’s a version of the original end theme Ghandara over the end credits, even if it’s a somewhat bland karaoke arrangement. Played by the appropriately-named Monkey Majik, this Canadian-born, Japanese-based band actually did  a version of Monkey Magic itself, but we can be glad it wasn’t included! (Think Maroon 5 or Orson without the, ahem, attitude… another example of what we discussed a few weeks ago when we looked back at Godiego’s original soundtrack!)

Monkey Magic is a likable continuation of the series that should appeal to fans, as it pretty well captures the attitude of the original series, but with somewaht better special effects. Let’s hope distributor Cine Asia brings over the 2006 series as well…?

About the author

Andrew Heskins
Founder of easternKicks.com, which he's been running since 2002. And it's all thanks to Monkey, Water Margin and those damn fantastic 80s Hong Kong action movies! Andy works as a graphic designer in London... More »
Read all posts by Andrew Heskins

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3 thoughts on “Monkey Magic

  1. Danielle Whitaker says:

    I showed the kids the intro and they just sat there stone faced while Mark and I were laughing naming the characters – so I am going to find a full episode and make them watch it !!

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