7 March 2003 | solri
Absurd but enjoyable
The Lost Empire, or The Monkey King, as it was called when I saw it on the Hallmark Network, is a silly film, but a very enjoyable one. It attempts to put a new spin on the Chinese classic, Journey to the West, which tells the story of how a monk went on an epic journey to recover some sacred scriptures, aided by the mischievous Monkey King, the gluttonous Pigsy and the sombre Sandy.
In this modern version the companions are the same, but the monk is replaced by a modern American sinologist, and the "scripture" is the original manuscript of Journey to the West itself, which is about to be destroyed by the "five traditional masters", who represent the forces of conservatism. Confused? It gets worse; if the book is destroyed, all the human progress that has taken place since the book was written will be reversed and the world will revert to feudalism. To cap it all, the Jade Emperor, Confucius and Kuan Yin, the goddess of compassion, are all weighing in.
With a scenario like this, the film cannot help but being absurd in places, but the absurdity, intentional or otherwise, is part of the fun, as it was in the original Journey to the West, which is a comedy as well as an analogy of the spiritual journey. Viewers who have read Journey to the West will enjoy the references to it; others can sit back and enjoy the visual richness, which as well as some spectacular scenes and SFX, includes Bai Ling as Kuan Yin, looking far more sexy than a goddess of compassion ought to (but then that's one of the twists in this tale as well).