The Monkey King Review

The Monkey King
The Monkey King
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It is an animated coming-of-age film that Netflix’s The Monkey King has trouble figuring out. It has some interesting ideas and good production values, which lead to a few engaging moments. However, this film undermines itself by providing weak action scenes and a hateful protagonist.

Based on the Chinese story Journey to The West, The Monkey King portrays a young monkey called Sun Wukong. This is part of a long line of stories in different media that usually portray him as a mischievous hero who later redeems himself. But this version of Sun Wukong is different. A social misfit whose very awkward late-adolescence stage can be said to define his character, since he had been alone most of his growing years after being banished from the rest of the monkeys because he was difficult. Instead of a clever but mischievous joker, The Monkey King presents us with an incredibly naive and immature personality.

The plot revolves around Sun Wukong’s quest for self-discovery; as such it deals with themes such as growth and personal development among others. In order to impress the deities enough for them to grant him immortality (and thus raise his stature in society), he embarks upon 100 demon slayings as proof of his worthiness for immortality. Unfortunately, though, his heroic efforts are tainted by deeply ingrained bitterness about having lived in poverty all this time coupled with zero sense or humility overall regarding those they save through their deeds.

What begins as just wanting to fit in transforms into wanting people to worship you like gods themselves do. Any damage suffered after a fight would be considered later if ever at all.” This matches the tone expected from wukong who employs selfish and irresponsible behavior throughout acting against what seems right both thematically and when regarded traditionally however there will be no redeeming qualities found in this particular interpretation.

This particular Sun Wukong is unbearable and acts as if he deserves everything. He has no good in him or a heart of gold that would make his attitude bearable, therefore, for more than ninety minutes of the film, he concentrates on his own needs only. it’s clear that Yang is trying to inject some humor into his lines, but the script doesn’t give him a chance. Even the slapstick moments don’t work: the funniest part is an homage to Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer. (This isn’t Chow’s first time at the Journey to the West rodeo: He wrote and produced two live-action films inspired by the novel in the 2010s.) Wukong isn’t always supposed to be likable – though sometimes he can be – but there are few laughs or anything else endearing about this character.

Lin, Wukong’s young assistant played by Jolie Hoang-Rappaport does better here. It is because Rappaport herself exhibits genuine feelings when her role requires her on occasions when things seem very bad for Sun Wukong and Lin. The Dragon King who plays Bowen Yang, however, serves as a competent villain. While not quite as memorable as fans might hope – his plan to destroy Earth with utter abandon being just one over-used trope in his character profile – Yang’s smooth delivery and sense of timing do provide some laughs even when they come from an otherwise weak opponent.

The remainder of the cast lacks distinction despite their immense talent. Jo Koy and Ron Yuan are certainly acceptable as the Dragon King’s henchmen Benbo and Babbo. The same can be observed about Hoon Lee and Jodi Long in the roles of Wangmu and the Jade Emperor, respectively. Good but not great is how these performances could be best described; with no one of them standing out too much a feeling shared by The Monkey King as an entirety.

When it comes to The Monkey King, nothing ruins it more than its breakneck pace or shoddy visuals. Most of the story is just on auto-pilot. This works well in the beginning where motivations for characters are being set up, however, throughout Sun Wukong’s feats, which make sense at first, do not slow down otherwise quickly moving pace; only two out of one hundred demons slain by him are shown. Indeed, moments for solace or reflection do not have time to hold any meaning before another action scene starts or some silly episode takes place.

Animation should also be mentioned here. It is true that starting from a vibrant color scheme most character designs appear good enough while much else in terms of environments gets overlooked. There are basically no details that differentiate a particular environment outside one random village within this movie. Even worse yet, there is neither anything striking about hellish nor heavenly realms that heroes travel to; save for some basic thematic contrasts like darkness perpetually enveloping hell or these places hosting various supernatural beings nobody would realize their worthiness over each other by design alone if this wasn’t mentioned explicitly somewhere else in those settings too; they are two more generic stops on Sun Wukong’s journey.

Many things could be forgiven if The Monkey King had good battle scenes. Almost all the battles end almost instantly after they start. Those that take slightly longer aren’t any better: choreographed fights which completely fail to exploit the dynamic skills of any warring party. What’s the point in showing off Sun Wukong’s ability to multiply if most of them are destroyed somewhere offscreen? Things get even worse when gods start interfering – their magical or any other kind of attacks have nothing to say about their immortality. This is also true for other things related to The Monkey King, as his larger-than-life attitude ends up being unexceptional.


The Monkey King on Netflix is a film that could have been great, but it was let down by slow pacing, inconsistent animation, and a very unlikable main character. Some comic bits here and there and some good action scenes would have saved most of it. Unfortunately, there is not much humor in this particular case; the fights are just stillborn at best. Furthermore, despite the cast being talented enough to give life to their roles, all their efforts cannot make The Monkey King better than its composite parts alone.

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