Monk Comes Down the Mountain
Original Title: 道士下山
Release Date: July 3, 2015
Director: Chen Kaige
Book by: Xu Haofeng
Screenplay by: Chen Kaige, Zhang Ting
Cast: Wang Baoqiang, Wah Yuen, Aaron Kwok, Chang Chen, Fan Wei, Lin Chiling, Vanness Wu, Wang Xueqi, Lam Suet, Jaycee Chan
I’m back with a new positive review on a poorly-received movie! This is totally unintentional, to be honest. I just couldn’t resist watching a movie that was crediting Aaron Kwok and Chang Chen directed by Chen Kaige. These two are beautiful men. I’m also guilty of buying Aaron Kwok’s 3-disc Greatest Hits collection as a blind-buy nearly a decade ago, so SUE ME.
Note: Mostly spoiler-free review ahead!
The thing about Monk Comes Down the Mountain is that it’s being totally mismarketed as a regular action comedy fantasy film , a la Journey to the West, despite its title- picturing a monk coming down a mountain doesn’t exactly spell “fun!”. The only comedic moment I could get into was the introduction of our Taoist monk apprentice, He Anxia (Wang BQ), who is made to fend for his life believing this will allow him to stay in the temple. It’s when his plan backfires and he gets thrown out of it that his adventure, to explore what real living is, truly begins.
Meeting with different masters — an ex-monk-turned-western-doctor (Fan), a totally zen priest Zhou (Kwok), and the wise priest (Wang XQ) — He Anxia will discover life through betrayal, vengeance, forgiveness and love. There’s also quite a bit of fighting, after all Wang Baoqiang was a skilled martial artist before he became a movie extra, a serious actor (Blind Shaft) and a bonafide blockbuster movie star (Lost in Thailand). The fighting choreography plays a lot more with its fantastical elements– there’s more flying like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and less fist-pumping than Ip Man — but the biggest draw of the film is its philosophy… which, I guess, isn’t exactly what people are looking for when wanting to watch an action comedy.
Monk Comes Down the Mountain is one more Chinese-American co-production, which will be ultimately tested when Zhang Yimou’s Andy-Lau-Matt-Damon-starrer The Great Wall hits big screens late next year, and it boasts budget and visuals. It’s nicely photographed, despite some of its production stills, and pretty CG is bountiful. However, sketchy CGI isn’t entirely missing especially when introducing Boss Zha (Chang) in a flying tables Beijing Opera sequence. I also enjoyed Vanness Wu’s turn as the flamboyant little brother of the doctor, who -luckily- wasn’t a devious ‘sexual deviant’ in the strict sense of the word… which makes me wonder- were Zhou and Boss Zha a thing? There has to be more than bromance blooming in the air, right?
Its biggest fault? It feels long during its 3 (or maybe 4) arc structure. It hits great dramatic highs with each master’s conclusion, but it slows down introducing main baddie Peng Qianwu (Yuen) and his son (Chan), though Peng having a son completes his character arc. However, I also wished we could have explored more about Zhou and Boss Zha during his days as soldiers.
Then again, I went in as a blind watch.