Hong Kong director Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle) is known for mixing bloody fight scenes with outrageous laughter in his action comedy films. Although his martial arts movies are violent, they’re also funny and create a unique genre of irony that he does better than most.

In his latest offering, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, Chow shares his philosophical side. Unlike some of his earlier over-the-top films, this one (based on Wu Cheng’en’s 16th century novel) is perfectly believable as the fairy tale that it is. Boasting eight credited screenwriters—the film also features a co-director (Derek Kwok)—all of who contribute to a diverse team telling a solid story.

Aspiring demon hunter Xuanzang (Zhang Wen) doesn’t seem to be cut out for the job. That’s because he’s also studying for the Buddhist priesthood and is unable to bring himself to kill anything. Instead, he believes the way to conquer demons is to entice them into becoming good again by reciting nursery rhymes from the book of “300 Fairytales.” Wide-eyed and flaunting a bushy fright wig, Xuanzang practically quakes in his own skin whenever he confronts one of the wayward fiends.

The film opens with a tense scene unraveling in a village built over gloriously green water. A monstrous, Jaws-like creature has already killed a man and is using its massive tentacles to snatch villagers and pull them into its gigantic mouth. Water Demon is not only brutish, but is crafty as it swims with stealth. When Xuanzang attempts to capture it with a lullaby, he fails miserably until female demon hunter, Miss Duan (Qi Shu), arrives to rescue him and the entire village. His introduction to her as a fellow demon hunter is met with guffaws.

“With skills like yours, you must have a death wish,” she chortles.

Yet for some unfathomable reason, she’s also instantly smitten.

Soon, their paths cross again as more monsters materialize. First, there’s K.L. Hog (Bingqiang Chen), or Pig Demon, whose roasted pork contains a secret ingredient. Then comes Sun Wukong, the human Monkey King (played by a mesmerizing Bo Huang). After disagreeing with Buddha, he was banished to Five Fingers Mountain where he’s been imprisoned the past 500 years. At times gentle and coaxing, Monkey King even flirts with Miss Duan in a battle of wits. But after turning into his alter ego, Killer Wu (Hangyu Ge), the diminutive Monkey King dressed in military regalia, he’s challenged by a trio of demon hunters.

“Is that a Peking Opera costume?” they tease him. “It’s cute.”

Fist of the North Star (Yu Xing) shifts-shapes into growling animals while Almighty Foot (Chaoli Zhang) has a miniscule foot that grows to a gargantuan proportion for stomping on enemies. Prince Important, who arrives with a quartet of flower-tossing middle-aged ladies, is a pale, coughing, effeminate killer who launches miniature swords that turn into hefty lethal weapons. Played by flamboyant Taiwanese singer Show Luo, he lacks no confidence.

“It’s such a burden being handsome,” he sneers at the other hunters. “You ugly people couldn’t understand.”

At first glance, some of the women’s roles seem somewhat deferential. Even though Miss Duan can single-handedly take down the most vicious demons, she has a meltdown over not winning Xuanzang as her lover. Further, her best female friend is also a capable fighter, but ends up teaching her to be more seductive. Another woman snivels about losing her husband to Water Demon, while the villager who emerged heroic does so only because she’s obese. A young girl victimized by Pig Demon incessantly begs her boyfriend for a gaze at his handsome face even as he responds maliciously.

But Chow is impartial. His male characters aren’t exactly flawless either.

The weak-kneed Xuanzang whines to his thieving Buddhist mentor that Miss Duan would be a “Lesser Love” and has no place in his search for a “Greater Love.”

“You’re blocking my way to Buddha-hood,” he complains to her.

But a beautifully lit scene of her dancing under a full moon to an exquisitely charming song makes his grievance ludicrous.

A blend of brutality, fantasy, gore, laughs, love, and spectacular CGI, this film ends on a religious note with a serene Buddha sitting in a psychedelic sky—an irony not lost on the master of irony, Stephen Chow.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons opens March 27 at Grand Illusion Cinema, 1403 NE 50th Street.

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