DVD: Monkey Magic
Old 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]