The Monkey King must rediscover who he is in the first part of Jeffrey Lau’s iconic action-comedy.
“Where are my grapes?”
“I’m your grapes!”
Last year I took a look at one of my favourite adaptations of Journey to the West – the Stephen Chow-directed comedy Conquering the Demons. It wasn’t a faithful retelling of any sections of Wu Cheng’en’s material, choosing instead to give us an origin story of a few key characters. It was a massive hit, and prompted a sequel but it wasn’t the first adaptation Chow had done. He notably didn’t have a role in Conquering the Demons, choosing to give the role of Sun Wukong to Huang Bo. Why? Well, this is probably due to the fact that, almost twenty years prior, he played that role himself in a three-hour film split into two parts called A Chinese Odyssey.
Like his future work, A Chinese Odyssey Part 1: Pandora’s Box is its own story and stars Chow as Wukong, whose general behaviour and treachery has forced Guanyin to do something drastic. Before she can render a final judgement, Tang Sangzang (known in this version as Longetivity Monk, played by Law Kar-ying) pleads for the sentence to be softer, offering his own life in the process. So the Monkey King is given a second chance and reincarnated 500 years in the future as a bandit leader named Joker. Life for the bandits takes a turn for a worse when two demons – the Spider Woman (Yammie Lam) and Bak Jing-jing (Karen Mok) appear, looking for Wukong. Shenanigans ensue.
I mentioned just earlier that Pandora’s Box is an original story, but unlike other Journey films which keep a certain feel about them, this one just sort of goes its own direction stylistically. Strangely, watching Pandora’s Box I felt like I was watching a more bog standard Hong Kong comedy – something along the lines of Doubles Cause Troubles – thanks to the way that it seems to forget what it’s about and decides to focus on a love triangle and the consequences of having two demons fall for you.
In that regard, I have to say that Pandora’s Box falls a bit flat as far as its title goes. There’s not really of Odyssey, but there is a lot of fucking about and stomping on dicks. But that’s really what anyone would expect from a Stephen Chow movie in the 90s, it’s not like he was playing against type and it does offer an interesting take on these characters. Sure I’d have liked to see Chow play Wukong a bit more like his book counterpart and less like a typical Stephen Chow asshole-with-a-heart-of-gold, but maybe that’s for part two.
Because it’s difficult to really judge this film on its own. It was made as a two-parter and should be treated as such, so I’ll hold off on any real criticisms regarding the story and the characters until later. It shows a lot of promise in the way it ends, and everyone is clearly having a lot of fun. Without needing to introduce concepts and characters, the story can now progress into more epic areas and I’m excited for what’s to come. I loved the crazy fun costumes, especially the Spider Woman’s and the action sequences were a perfect mix of comical and wuxia for my tastes. That’s the stuff that will carry over into part 2, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing what’s in store in the next chapter of the story.
Verdict: Unfocused and suffering from being incomplete, Pandora’s Box is nevertheless a fun time and a promising start of what should be an epic odyssey.
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Violence: Some fanciful spinning/10
Bull King costume: A solid 5/10
Burning dick gags: 3? 4? A million?
Time travel: Just go back a whole ten minutes, dude
Sudden pregnancy: I don’t even want to think about how that happened.
A Chinese Odyssey Part 1: Pandora’s Box (1995)
Also known as: 西遊記第壹佰零壹回之月光寶盒
Director: Jeffrey Lau
Writer: Wu Cheng’en (highly debatable)
Stephen Chow – Joker/ Monkey King
Ng Man-tat – Pigsy
Law Kar-ying – Longevity Monk
Yammie Lam – Spider Woman
Karen Mok – Bak Jing-jing
Jeffrey Lau – Grandpa Buddha / The Grapes
Lu Shuming – Bull King
Johnnie Kong – Blindy
Athena Chu – Zixia