Monkey Magic: The Movie (UK - BD RB)
Leigh reviews the BD redux of the funkiest monkey that ever did pop...
Monkey Magic is an updating of the much loved 1970s Japanese TV series Monkey!, in itself an adaptation of the revered book from the 1590s titled Journey to the West. Much the same as what has come before, this is the tale of the irrepressible Monkey King Son Goku, a petulant yet well meaning immortal, who embarks upon a journey to India safeguarding Buddhist monk Tripitaka, accompanied by the otherworldly Pigsy and Sandy. Much hijinks and life lessons ensue.
Being a seventies baby, I hold the original Monkey! dear to my heart, with memories of early evenings in front of the telly with a cup of tea and a plate of malted milks burned deep in my memory. So when I heard the series was getting a redux, I was rather excited. Although it was entertaining, there's no denying that the original series was a rather rough and ready low budget affair, so it's interesting to see how the concept looks as a high budget affair. It has to be said, while the filmmakers have tried to be as faithful to the original as possible regarding costume and set design, it is a far more polished product than before. It's just a shame that the original's heart got lost in translation.
One of the film's problems is that it seems to think the original was camp, when in fact it was simply seventies, and relied more on charm than excess. The only thing that made the original 'camp' was the westernising of the programme, with its rather irreverent dubbing and disco theme tunes. Sadly, what we have here are rather gaudy and tacky costumes, performances that are far too loud and grating, and an uninvolving, rather distant directorial style. What we are left with is lots of shouting, gurning, petulant jumping on the spot, and very little else.
Pacing is also an issue with Monkey Magic. Whereas the original programme sat in the usual twenty five minute episodic storytelling bracket, suiting the quest based format perfectly, plot is stretched like fine taffy here to fill two hours. You would think that with such long stretches of film to fill the feature would be packed with action, but the fight sequences are thin on the ground, although what there is comes off quite well. The martial arts sequences are well choreographed and the flying cloud sequence is far more impressive this time around. Having said that, the poorly created final fight brings to mind the climax of Mortal Kombat Annihilation, which I'm sure we all know is not a good thing.
It's possible that nostalgia has clouded my judgment, but I can't help but feel that Monkey Magic is a rather unsatisfying and disappointing affair. While it's not a badly made film by any stretch of the imagination, it simply lacks the heart and soul of the original series. I personally would rather chose either the seventies version or Jet Li's take on the Monkey King in the underrated Forbidden Kingdom over this, but it's definitely not a film to avoid.
The 2.35:1 1080p transfer offered here is pretty decent stuff. It doesn't offer the sharpest image in the world, but there is enough detail in there to warrant buying the Blu-ray over the standard DVD. It's a clean transfer, with little to no grain and no noticeable artefacting. Considering it's a rather gaudy looking film in places, the colour scheme is handled suitably well, with no noticeable bleeding or clashing. Black levels are fairly deep, but not enough to hide the dodgy joins between set and CGI in the climax. It's not a perfect transfer, but I've seen a few of the Cine Asia BDs now, and it's probably the best I've seen them put out so far.
Although I am aware that Cine Asia are purists when it comes to original language tracks, they really dropped the ball by not offering an English dub in the style of the old series. I wanted at least Miriam Margolyes, dammit. Despite various reports of a weak 5.1 mix, I found the track to be rather nice. It's a loud one, make no mistake, but there is good balance between dialogue and effects, especially the comedy pings and FX, and the seventies style funk soundtrack is lovely and clear. Surrounds support the action well, with the cloud chase zipping around the rears nicely. Although it's not demonstration quality, I was pleasantly surprised by the track. A 2.0 is also offered.
The extras on the disc are so poor you wonder why they didn't just create a barebones disc and save the space for transfers. All that is offered are TV spots, trailers and a single page of text dedicated to the history of the story, which only serves the purpose of saving you from going to Wikipedia to find out better written information.
While there's nothing disastrously wrong with Monkey Magic, the screeching noisiness of the film will sit poorly with those who are expecting the warm impishness of the source series. Fun can be gleaned from this version, and one can only hope it piques interest in the viewer to search out the original programme. It's still worth a look, if only out of curiosity.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Leigh Riding
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 23rd February 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Japanese
Subtitles: English (Forced)
Extras: Trailers, TV spots, Journey Into The West notes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kensaku Sawada
Cast: Shingo Katori, Teruyoshi Uchimura, Atsushi Ito, Eri Fukatsu, Asami Mizukawa
Length: 120 minutes
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