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DVD: Monkey Magic

monkeymagic-mainOld televisions shows and Japanese Cinema are two sources that have been gouged mercilessly by unimaginative Hollywood studios in recent years. Sadly the results are seldom an improvement on the original material. Too often the Hollywood remakes leave anyone with fond memories of the original, disappointed… Of course I’m generalizing here, but given that I speak for everyone, that’s fine.

Brace yourself for a tale of unspeakable hardship: The town in which I grew up was so geographically (and culturally) isolated that we only received two television stations. Let me give you a moment to take that in… Yeah, I really said TWO stations!

One of those stations was the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) and it was thanks to its after-school programming that I managed to grow into the TV nerd that I am today. Everyday I’d pop mono’s on my BMX and bunny-hop off curbs to get home as quickly as possible, so that I could catch the beginning of a television roster which formed much of what still entertains me today. On a fairly regular basis the shows would change, but the old faithful always returned: The Kenny Everett Video Cassette would replace The Dave Allen Show, which would have replaced The Goodies, which came after Dr Who (Tom Baker for the win!), which had followed from the irrepressible Monkey Magic.

Countless times these shows repeated, and countless times I enjoyed them all over again. So, when a movie titled MONKEY MAGIC landed in my review box, It was with more than a little trepidation that I approached watching it.

The series which I remember so fondly, was originally produced in the late 70’s and is far from the only adaptation of the 500 year old Chinese novel “Hsi Yu Chi” (Record Of A Journey To The West). Monkey Magic (aka, Monkey or Saiyûki) took the story of the legendary journey of the priest, Tripitaka, and his mystical companions Sandy, Pigsy and Monkey, and created entertainment for children and adults alike. Sure the production quality was lacking, but the whole series had a great sense of humor about itself. It was silly fun which allowed you to overlook the bad dialogue and dodgy effects… In fact, there was something endearing about the obvious use of miniatures. Clearly, I’ve a strong affection for this show, which is further illustrated by the fact that I’ve collected the series on DVD.

I’m happy to say that this new movie is a continuation of the adventures of the 70’s show, and even employs much of the music from that series. From the moment the DVD menu screen loaded up I had a smile on my face.

Director Kensaku Sawada and writer Yuji Sakamoto have gone to great efforts to recreate the characters and the dynamic of the series. Shingo Katori’s portrayal of the spoilt and egotistical Goku (Monkey) is a little more over the top than Masaaki Sakai’s version from the series but the core of the character (if not his hair color!) is still very much the same.

From an entirely critical perspective, the film is rubbish: The performances are right out of the David Lee Roth school of subtlety, the characters are under developed, the special effects and make-up would be at home in an episode of The Power Rangers and the plot is obvious and lacks any real meat… But I’ll be damned if I didn’t love every minute of it.

For any fan of the “original” series, I think that this is the best that we could have ever hoped for in a movie adaptation. Is there room for a more mature take? Absolutely! And I’d welcome it in a heartbeat, providing that it had the spirit of the original series – which this DVD has by the boatload. Perhaps this is another lesson that Japanese cinema could teach Hollywood… You know, if Hollywood were listening. [source]

© 2007 FUJI TELEVISION NETWORK, TOHO, J-DREAM, FNS
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12 Comments

    Anyone got enrollment details for the David Lee Roth school of subtlety…?

  • No.

    Also: Monkey AWESOME

  • You’re both right

  • Coincidentally, we watched this on Fri night, as G was also commissioned to do a review of it. Being a huge fan of the original series (my memory fades on other more significant areas of my youth, but I still remember all the words to the opening theme) I was really looking forward to it…yep, also singing along with the original closing theme, now on the DVD menu.

    It started well and I was thrilled with how well they had visually matched the four characters (although initially thrown by Monkey’s blonde hair). But as they film ground onwards, I found myself getting more and more disappointed….by the last 20mins I was checking my watch. Never a good sign.

    Of course it was slapstick (although a couple of the Warner Brothers moments did make my cringe a little), with paper thin plot and overacting…all of that I expected! But perhaps it was too thin. It was a 30min episode stretched to 2 hours. Several sequences started well, but laboured on too long, long after the joke was made. Tripitaka was too ‘soft’ and emotive…unlike the controlled, slightly aloof character of the TV show. And Pigsy and Sandy were nothing but set dressing…they hardly contributed to the plot and we saw little of their own special talents/quirks.

    All up, I was mildly entertained, but knew I’d never bother sitting through it again…it left me wanting to hunt down the original series on DVD and watch them all again. Born from an egg on a mountain top….

    (A silly aspect i did enjoy… having recently returned from Japan and picked up several basic phrases, i was delightedly repeating bits of dialogue all the way through…much to the distraction of G.)

  • so… let me see if I understand what you’re saying… the film is rubbish: The performances are right out of the David Lee Roth school of subtlety, the characters are under developed, the special effects and make-up would be at home in an episode of The Power Rangers and the plot is obvious and lacks any real meat.

    Something like that?

  • Eerr…yeah. Basically.
    But you miss my overall gist: i don’t love it. I didn’t even particularly like it. And i don’t think it does that much justice to the original series. Or do i remember the original series through a rose-tinted memory haze? Probably! *chuckle*

  • No no, I understood your gist AND the things you actually wrote. My gist was that I understood what you were saying and that I’d already said much of what you said in your original comment, in the original post.

    I also agree with your comments about Pigsy and Sand being underused. The fact that you didn’t enjoy the movie and I did doesn’t change the fact that I’ve agreed with what you’ve said… or the fact that you apparently agree with me (tit-tat). It just comes down to a matter of opinion… perhaps I was just in the mood to enjoy something extremely silly when I watched this… perhaps the fact that I already own the original series on DVD means that I don’t have to rely on an ill-functioning memory to make comparisons.

    But, the biggest perhaps of all is that — perhaps — you’d better not re-watch the original series any time soon. Rather than have your memories of it tarnished, just remember that you enjoyed it and let that be enough.

  • Maybe that would be the safe thing to do. :-)

  • Perhaps, yes.
    I’d love to read G’s review, if that’s at all possible. I’m sure whatever his opinion of the film is, it would be presented in a far more legible fashion than what’s usually found cluttering up this site.

  • So, Katori is from this boy group in Japan called SMAP that has been around for ages. Manufactured boy band of “idols”- pretty crappy stuff. But popular, which is how he got the gig for this video.

    Which reminds me of when I was in Japan. I was at this geek shopping centre, and there was this shop full of photos of young girls (not pornographic). I said to my mate “What’s this?”. He said, “They’re idols”. I said, “Right, so they sing?”. He said “No”. “Dance?”. “No”. “Act?”. “No”. “Are they funny?”. “No”. “I don’t get it, ” I said, “What do they do then?”. He replied “They’re idols”.

    So really you shouldn’t expect much from a video where the star is an “idol”. :-)

  • Actually, I often Send G links to your posts…he enjoys your review style a great deal! His review has just gone up here:
    http://reviews.media-culture.org.au/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=3030
    Although he’s ticked because you’re a better writer than him. He says it’s because you’re your own ‘boss’ you let yourself get away with saying anything you want. ;-)

  • Pfft – he calls that a review… He doesn’t even mention David Lee Roth, let alone the Goodies. And what’s with all that correct grammar?