14 March 2001 | cglassey
A mixed bag, weak in many key areas
Lost Empire, a VERY strange title for a retelling of the old Chinese classic adventure "Journey to the West", is a mixed bag of a film. David Hwang's screenplay is in many respects a sequel to the original story, as opposed to being a modern rendition of the original story. I regard this as a mistake as I believe Mr. Hwang lost more by giving up on the original characters than he gained by having a modern setting.
Good points: The lovely Ling Bai did a good job as the Bodhisattva of Compassion (Kwan Yin). Some scenes with Monkey and the "Scholar from Above" went well (mainly the scenes when Monkey rescues his subjects on Flower Fruit Island). Some interplay between "Sandy" and the "Scholar from Above" was funny. Some of the art design for the palace of the Jade Emperor was good (but NOT the throne room, yuk!).
Bad points: Too many explosions. A really ugly and totally wrong portrait of Confucius (I could go on for some time but I'll stick with this key point: Confucius was a materialist. He had no interest in religion and spirits. He was only interested in how a good state was run. The depiction of Confucius in this movie is totally at odds with EVERYTHING that Confucius stood for.) The last half-hour of the movie was anti-climactic, over-wrought, and uninteresting.
Deeper problems: Journey to the West is, at its core, at Buddhist story about the quest to attain enlightenment (along with the fun stuff about beating demons). This story (Lost Empire) takes place AFTER Monkey and Sandy have achieved their ultimate state. They are both "supposed" to be enlightened beings. The problem with this is that a) they don't act like enlightened beings, and b) there isn't much drama possible when you are enlightened. You can really tell the weakness in the writing when Kwan Yin has to tell Monkey's old teacher that "Monkey HAS been blessed by the Buddha". If you need a 3rd party (a goddess no less) to convince other people that you have become enlightened and have been blessed by the Buddha, well, its clear to me that the story is saying one thing, but doing another.
In fact, none of the characters behaves "in character". At least not like the characters that you enjoyed when reading "Journey to the West".
Deepest problem: the story (Lost Empire) is trying to both be and not be "Journey to the West" at the same time. Its trying to both be true to original ideas and be "modern" and up-to-date at the same time. Its trying to be a sequel that retells the original story. It is, in short, a total mess at a very deep level. -- Colin Glassey