Review by Sean Boelman
When it comes to Chinese animated films, there are some that are genuinely creative but more that exist primarily to meet the national quota. The Monkey King: Reborn falls more into the latter category, with a standard retelling of this well-known tale from Chinese mythology resulting in an altogether forgettable family movie.
The film follows the trickster Monkey King as he accidentally unleashes the Demon King, sending him on a quest to save the world before the Demon King is able to unleash his armies and destroy the world. The Monkey King is definitely one of the more iconic figures of Eastern mythology, and so audiences will likely have at least a passing familiarity with the tale.
For the most part, the movie seems to operate under the assumption that the audience will know the backstory and understand the principles that govern this legend. And for the most part, the target audience will have that knowledge, but international audiences may find themselves to be a bit lost.
However, for a film that relies so heavily on such a rich and deep mythology, the movie is awfully simplistic. It’s a very by-the-book, relatively sanitized adventure that recounts familiar beats. It’s clear that the film exists mainly to reinforce national pride and instill younger Chinese viewers with philosophical values, rather than cater to a global audience.
The movie throws the audience into this world in a way that is sometimes frustrating. There are a lot of really interesting side characters in the film, for example, but so much of the runtime is spent building up this character who has been chronicled time in time again in various forms of storytelling throughout the ages.
It also feels like the movie is trying to modernize the tale of the Monkey King in a way, and that doesn’t exactly fit well here. Although mythologies across the world often have a lot of similar tropes, and those tropes are frequently adopted by pop culture, much of this film feels like a blatant attempt at assimilation, and that is disappointing to see.
From a technical standpoint, the movie is solid. The animation style is a bit nondescript, but the action sequences are done in a way that is big and exciting. And then on top of that, there is the low-brow humor which serves as the comedic relief for a significant majority of Chinese films, and some of that is poorly-executed.
The Monkey King: Reborn is pretty underwhelming, especially considering the wealth of great animated movies we have gotten in recent years inspired by Chinese mythology. It’s a case of been there, done that which won’t ever get off the ground.
The Monkey King: Reborn hits VOD on December 7.