The Monkey King
MOVIE | A primate with superpowers searches for immortality in an animated retelling of a Chinese legend
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Netflix’s new movie The Monkey King is the stuff of legend—16th-century Chinese legend to be exact.
Anyone who grew up in East Asia will know the story of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King from the fable Journey to the West. The talking primate is like five comic-book heroes rolled into one, possessing supernatural strength and speed, insane kung fu skills, fur that can make copies of himself, and a memory that would put any elephant to shame.
Netflix’s version preserves the Monkey King’s legendary powers, but in an update in keeping with our age, it also gives him a huge ego. Instead of a monkey striking a Zen pose, we get a rash and insufferable smart aleck who’s too aware of his unmatched abilities. When he learns that killing 100 demons will help him gain the immortality he so craves, he can’t wait to get started.
His quest eventually brings him to a peasant village where he meets Lin, a village girl who insists on tagging along. Together, they journey to hell to erase his name from the scrolls of death, to an orchard to get a magical peach, and then to heaven to make an immortality elixir. Once he achieves immortality, the primate lords his superpowers over everyone. In an appearance that feels more like a cameo than an endorsement of East Asian religion, the enigmatic Buddha shows up to ask Lin to enlighten the Monkey King.
Netflix’s The Monkey King might entertain youngsters, but it only hints at the Chinese roots behind the legend. Older viewers interested in a more sophisticated reinterpretation of the Monkey King should check out Disney’s American Born Chinese that was released earlier this year or the entertaining 2006 graphic novel on which it’s based.