Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Quick Review: Journey to the West

It really is a shame we don't get enough foreign movies in the US.  On my recent trip over to Asia, I did get a chance to see - in the air - the movie "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons."  If you get a chance to see this, you should. This is the most explicitly Buddhist film I've seen in a long time, but being as it's produced by Stephen Chow,  it is very fictional and very funny (among other things.)  It is very loosely based on  "Journey to the West," which is a classic of Chinese literature. 

It purports to tell the story of how Xuanzang came to go to the West to get the sutras, and is sort of a prequel, I'd guess to the other Journey to the West. So imagine a Buddhist themed movie in the style of Kung Fu Hustle.  In this movie, Xuanzang is a hapless demon hunter who attempts to tame demons by singing to them from the children's book "300 Nursery Rhymes."  He believes that within the demons there is good, and they will respond to compassion with compassion.

Needless to say the demons don't actually see it that way, being that there's demons, and Xuanzang has competition from other demon hunters with less lofty ideals, but in the end, Xuanzang umm...gets enlightened.  No, seriously.

What is really odd in this movie, and I'd say ultimately what makes this movie great -  is the rather extremes of things that take place in the movie.  One minute a  child is eaten by a demon, and a few minutes later there is extreme slapstick.  However, the message of compassion in the movie is clear. It is clear that the violence that does exist in the movie is a motivator for Xuanzang's compassion as well as constancy in his practice.  This really is a Buddhist-themed movie, and that's what's interesting to me as well.  What other religion could have such a movie  about one of its iconic figures that generates laughter?  OK, there's probably some Bollywood movie somewhere that does something similar, or, I suppose if it was to your taste, some of the relatively humorous parts of Bagger Vance. But Bagger Vance has nothing at all on this movie.

Stephen Chow is one of the greatest artists working in cinema today; it's a real pity that this and movies like it don't get wider distribution in the United States.


Neti said...

Mumon the people demand more dharma.

Mumon K said...


They do indeed.