Part live action & part CGI animated feature, A Chinese Tall Story aka A Journey to the West (Ching din dai sing, 2005) is a science fiction martial arts extravaganza. It ranges from silly to emotional to awe inspiring, & clearly delights even in its own silliest parts, just so long as it sustains genuine charm & imagination.
it goes off on a tangent away from the traditional medieval fantasy epic of The Journey to the West always before featuring Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy & the saint Tripitaka. There've been many films & television series & comic books & all sorts of modern retellings of the most familiar stories from this epic, featuring these four figures journeying west in search of the heavenly scripture, encountering all sorts of troubles along the way. This film, however, tackles new ground.
The Monkey King Sun Wu-kong (Chen Bo-lin), Pigsy Zhu Wuneg (Kenny Kwan) & Sandy Sha Wu-jing (Steven Cheung) have a gargantuan animated war with a cosmic tree-spirit & its army of giant insects. It's a fabulously exciting bit of anime, though some viewers expecting it to be more of a live-action fantasy kung-fu may have to adjust their expectation rapidly or end up disappointed.
After encounters by turns terrifying & whimsical, the three companions are overcome & entombed for what could be forever. Tripikata must find a way to free Monkey, Pigsy & Sandy, aided by an extremely powerful & sentient fighting pole that can turn into just about anything through the medieval Buddhist mysteries of computer generated morphs.
With three of the most familiar characters of the epic so soon written out of the tale, not to return until until near the end, what we have here is a "prequel" to the best known episodes of the adventures of Tripikata (Nicholas Tse) & his companions. This is to be a story primarily about the saint Tripikata & the homely lizard-demoness Meiyin (Charlene Choi, who I now adore).
Meiyin is big-nosed, snaggle-toothed, & has warts on her chin. She claims to be a great beauty, "but no pushover at love." In reality she knows exactly how ugly she is, but in her heart she is like any other young woman, with dreams & desires like any girl.
To some degree she combines the traits of the usual three companions of Tripitaka, the mightiness of Monkey, the limited comprehension of Sandy, the nurturant Pigsy, but adding the quality of desire.
A meteoric egg from another world lands upon the earth, & Meiyin has taken the egg into her cave & takes care of it. Within the egg there is estivating the beautiful Princess Xiao Shan (Fan Bing Bing).
Meiyin is also nursing Tripikata back to health & kind of wants to keep him captive since she has fallen in love with him. When he is left alone, he opens a door into the egg & sees the beautiful slim woman inside. When he tries to reach in & touch her, he is tossed clear to the other side of the cave.
In an odd aside that becomes more important as the story becomes increasingly epic & galactic, Meiyin also takes care of the magic golden pole, which having a mind of its own comes to prefer her to Tripikata.
While Tripikata for a long time sees only the ugliest girl imaginable, the golden pole, like the audience, & in time like Tripikata himself, sees an individual so kind & naturally spiritual & good-intentioned that she's really more beautiful than the princess inside the egg. Her beauty is just not on the outside for superficial viewing. When she is reminded she's just a lizard-imp, she retorts, "We're evil, but we're not bad people!"
In the course of trying to find sufficient power to find & free Monkey, Pigsy & Sandy, our hero & heroine Tripikata & Meiyin go through what appears to be a Stargate in outer space, called the South Gate of Heaven.
In the bizarre sequence that unfolds, the heavenly knights seem unreasonably rigid about their rules, & are about to punish Tripikata, so Meiyin kills one of them & whisks Tripikata to safety back on earth. The story will return to Heaven for further judgement in a long epilog after the main action of the film is over.
It is Tripikata who'll be blamed for the slaying of a god, & Meiyin's demonic attempt to be helpful has made things much worse. Tripikata abandons Meiyin as too vile a trouble-causer. But he pines & misses her, slowly coming to realize that against all common sense he loves her. He returns to her, & she forgives him, though warning if he ever abandons her again, she won't forgive him twice.
He is, however, still a monk & they cannot consummate their love. So Meiyin gets all her imp friends together & some of them disguise themselves as heavenly police officers who've come to kill Tripikata for his act of violence while visiting the court of the heavenly knights. To save Meiyin & himself he has to use his kung fu to kill the agents of heaven, not knowing they are merely imps who are play-acting.
He has a crisis of self-identity, feeling he can never again be a pure & holy monk, having killed. So he dresses up like a punk rocker, in emulation of the imps, & joins their clan.
This makes Meiyin deliriously happy, & though she has badly tricked Tripikata, she's sure it's for his as well as her own good. Since all her imp family is willing to devote itself to liberating Pigsy, Monkey, & Sandy from the cosmic tree spirit, Tripikata's new alliance is good for everyone.
The physical world of love & happiness is rewarding to Tripikata. Because this film likes periodically to descend into complete silliness, for a while Tripikata runs about in a cheap Spiderman costume, having the time of his life. Not being a holy sacred saint all the gosh darned time is truly liberating.
Princess Xiao Shan has left her egg. She wears a glittery tight suit & cap & smokes Cools.
She's a very powerful warrior queen from another world, & her army awaits in a flying saucer some distance away in space.
Her race had abandoned earth many generations before because of the violence & disorder, but this time they will not abandon Earth. She will help liberate Pigsy, Sandy, & the Monkey King, & reveal to Tripikata the heavenly scriptures.
Living his "imp" life with Meiyan has kept his true destiny on hold. And Meiyin is desparately jealous of the beautiful Princess Xiao Shan, for the imp clan doesn't need the princess to save the day, they can do it themselves.
But when Tripikata finds out he has been duped by Meiyin into believing himself evil, & in reality he never killed anyone, his anger is not all holy & forgiving.
Meiyin can barely explain herself, lacking eloquence, but weeps, "I'm not just a thing. I have a name. My name is Meiyin!' He does not try to understand her, but returns to his life as a monk, setting out with Princess Xiao Shan.
The princess has to stop for a smoke so Tripikata joins her at her side to speak of his emotions. She seems to understand him. She tells him that she once fell in love, when she was in her egg, when someone opened the door & peered in with the most soulful eyes.
"You mean me?" exclaims Tripikata, but the princess denies such a thing is possible, as she doesn't really like him all that much. And it really wasn't him either.
Meanwhile Meiyin suffers due to her pure-hearted love of Tripikata. Her mother seeing her ugly daughter's suffering brings her an object & says, "I found you on a river bank & adopted you. This was beside you."
Meiyin takes the strange amulet, & it begins to transform her. She is like the ugly duckling who has now matured into the most stunningly beauitiful angelic being.
As she stood on the rock in the pool & made her first transformation, I have to tell you, I leaned forward with my mouth agape, as it was just so amazing. The whole design of this sequence is pure art.
Part of me was "sorry" she was no longer the ugly imp because the whole idea of beauty being on the inside is rather undone by revealing she's quite the stunner on the outside too. But, well, now her whole body matches her soulful eyes. She is One, within & without.
But her change was not yet complete & in the flashing moment of final transformation, I jumped out of my seat & cried out in surprise. Now I just love cinema & am easily brought into a story because I want every film to be a winner, even the ones that suck. But it's the rare film that can get me out of my seat practically overawed. This is great stuff.
She has also come into her full power, which is considerable, & it will ultimately be she that saves Tripikata, the princess, Pigsy, Monkey, & Sandy, & the whole earth, & before the heavenly court prove herself the most saintly too.
The big action climax is mostly anime, too cool to be much criticized, though by turning the transformed Meiyin into something of an android cartoon character for her biggest events, it does seem a pity, because the film presents a character that had me out of my seat at the gloriousness of it all, then replaced her with a much easier to sustain cartoon character. So a viewer must be prepared for a good cartoon & a good live action film that don't entirely blend together smoothly.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl