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The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven’s Palace

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Jonathan Tam
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The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven’s Palace

I initially began the film, Chaser, but could not bring myself emotionally to watch another Korean horror film. I decided to make a slight turn towards something that may find itself into to secondary classroom, The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven’s Palace. Directed by Cheang Pou Soi, the film explores the legend of the Monkey King and it was my hope that this may be a film that can find itself in something like an English class, where students can gain a greater appreciation for story elements, conflict and mythology.

I think that in recent years, the character of the Monkey King has certainly trickled its way into mainstream media. Across video games and films, the Monkey King is depicted as this trickster protagonist that wears golden-red armor and wields a magical staff. I approached this film with an incomplete understanding of who the Monkey King is. And because this film was based on selected chapters from the Cheng’en classic, Journey to the West, I was curious to hear the origin story of the Monkey King. The movie depicts how the Monkey King was born and his initial conflict with heaven, the Jade Emperor, the Bull Demon King, and a Nine-Tailed Fox. The story describes a war occuring between the Bull Demon King and the Jade Emperor that results in the sacrifice of Nuwa (the Jade Emperor’s sister). Having witnessed so much destruction, Nuwa turns herself into magical crystals that are sent to Earth and one of these crystales raises the Monkey King. The Monkey King grows and in his later life, he wrestles with the trickery of the Bull Demon King. He is imprisoned for allowing the Bull Demon King to enter heaven through the South Gate and is ultimately responsible for the destruction in Heaven. For this, he is imprisoned for 500 years and this set up for the events of Tan Sanzang, who would travel through the west mountains 500 years later.

As a film, The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven’s palace suffers from pacing and heavily reliance on CGI. It’s definitely a film that may lose its audiences due to the scope of the characters as well as lack of full clarity (I even found myself looking up a lot throughout the film). But, as a supplement to classroom text, the movie does have some place in a classroom. The film is not overtly violent, does not contain any vulgar language, and can be entertaining at times.