Inspired by an old Chinese tale and translated into English, The Monkey King is a fast-paced, animated adventure that seeks to be humorous and humbling. Instead, the 97-minute take on a played-out story does neither and goes to the far reaches of “odd” than I would’ve preferred. (Warning: spoilers ahead)

Directed by Anthony Stacchi, the film is maybe the fourth or fifth iteration of the story “Journey to the West” but is definitely not connected to Monkey King: Hero Is Back starring Jackie Chan. This standalone project is not the Chinese-to-American blockbuster they hoped it would be. It leaves a lot to be desired and there are copious gaps throughout the film. The innumerable dispersion of deities and demons every few minutes didn’t help.

A red monkey, who simply goes by Monkey King (Jimmy O. Yang), was born from an egg-shaped rock. He quickly tries to find community with other primates but is immediately rejected. He has no family, no training, and has no idea where he is. It’s not until an elder primate tells him all the things that he isn’t, that he becomes obsessed with becoming immortal. In the meantime, he takes every chance he can get to remind his “assistant” Lin (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport) that she’s not needed. He’s selfish, cocky, and abrasive, almost mimicking the treatment he’s received down to the letter.

THE MONKEY KING – (L-R) MONKEY KING (Jimmy O. Yang) and DRAGON KING (voiced by Bowen Yang). Cr: Netflix © 2023

Even though the film is rated PG, I wouldn’t be surprised if children leave the film with a neverending flow of questions. The Monkey King literally goes “to hell and back” as part of a challenge to change the trajectory of his life and gain immortality. So there are gods, immortals, spirits, demons, fights in heaven, battles in hell, and all of this will take place for the viewer to experience 15 seconds of humility in the last 10 minutes of the movie. This isn’t your affectionate Disney film by any stretch and dabbles a bit too much into polytheism to even focus on the storyline.

The Monkey King gets a 5.5 out of 10. The Monkey King is quicker and more agile than anyone he approaches but it never explains why. He becomes friends with a stick which is his ultimate weapon and actually communicates with him… But we don’t know how. Too many questions go unanswered and if any lessons were supposed to be dispatched they were dreadfully done.

The Monkey King is now available on Netflix

-Jon Jones

Photos: Courtesy of Netflix

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