A CHINESE TALL STORY
(Qing Dian Da Sheng)
A Chinese Tall Story is a variant on Journey to the West. Written in China sometime in the 16th Century by an author who is generally attributed as being Wu Cheng En, Journey to the West is one of the great cultural legends of the world. The story concerns a pilgrimage to India undertaken by the scholar Xuanzang/Tripitaka. He is accompanied by several companions the mischievous trickster Monkey King, the half-human, half-porcine Pigsy and the monk Friar Sand who undergo various adventures and encounter fantastical creatures throughout the journey. (Journey to the West has been filmed numerous times before see below).
Ten years before A Chinese Tall Story, Jeffrey Lau had conducted a two-part adaptation of Journey to the West with A Chinese Odyssey Part 1: Pandoras Box (1994) and A Chinese Odyssey Part 2: Cinderella (1995), which I have not yet seen. From a description of the plot, A Chinese Tall Story feels like third uncredited film in the trilogy, although Lau would later return to his earlier series with A Chinese Odyssey Part Three (2016).
To put it mildly, A Chinese Tall Story is a completely nutso film. As the title (or at least the one given it in the English-language release) suggests, Lau is riffing/spoofing on A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) and its wildly over-the-top mix of Wu Xia, Eastern supernatural and fantasy elements. Lau goes crazy within the first few scenes where Shache comes under attack by the tree demon and Monkey King and companions go into action in a massively-scaled battle that involves what looks the people of an Indian city who burst into a Bollywood-styled dance routine, massed hordes of insectoid demons and Bo-lin Chen dealing with them by transforming the staff into a giant flyswat, followed by a battle that tears up an entire mountain. Its a wildly imaginative sequence that only falls down due the fact that the film is operating with less than stellar visual effects rather than those of a top-drawer studio, they look more like the effects for a medium rez computer game.
I am not really an enthusiast of Jeffrey Laus films. He specialises in a rowdy and very silly form of slapstick comedy known as Mo Lei Tau. This is not the first approach that comes to mind when you think of Journey to the West. One of the more amusing things throughout is Monkeys staff, which seems to be the equivalent of a Green Lantern ring and is constantly transforming into everything imaginable from producing boats to becoming a jet engine plane, even appearing as birds twittering around an unconscious Tripitakas head. In the climactic scenes, it even transforms into a giant robot replete with massive amounts of heavy artillery, which the companions ride into battle against the tree demon. The plot seems completely random with assorted sidetrips off to visit various heavenly realms and the romance between Nicholas Tse and Charlene Choi who is given ugly makeup for much of the film in typical fashion, this is played over-the-top and extremely silly, involving much in the way of petulant fighting between the two.
What finally leaves you completely scratching your head is the twist A Chinese Tall Story takes near the end. For the bulk of the film, we have had the impression that we are watching a fantasy film. Many of the elements are drawn from Eastern belief and are fantastic. About three-quarters of the way through, for no apparent reason I can discern, Nicholas Tse puts on a Spider-Man lookalike costume. (Doing so, never seems to serve any purpose in the film). During one of his spats with Charlene Choi, he wanders away and encounters an alien woman (Binbing Li) who looks like she has stepped out of a UFO from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) although she also contradictory claims that she comes from Earths past and to have arrived there by a time tunnel.
Jeffrey Laus other genre films include:- the true-life serial killer film The Hong Kong Butcher (1985); the horror comedy Thunder Cops (1987); The Haunted Cop Shop (1987) and The Haunted Cop Shop II (1988) and the unrelated Mortuary Blues (1990), all featuring cops versus various monsters; All For the Winner (1990) and All For the Winner 2/The Top Bet (1991), gambling comedies about people with clairvoyant abilities; the martial arts film The Eagle Shooting Heroes (1993); the two-part adaptation of Journey to the West, A Chinese Odyssey Part 1: Pandoras Box (1994) and A Chinese Odyssey Part 2: Cinderella (1995); the Chow Yun Fat fantasy comedy Treasure Hunt (1994); the ghost comedy Out of the Dark (1995); the historical fantasy Chinese Odyssey 2002 (2002); Second Time Around (2002), another gambling fantasy; the comedy Metallic Attraction: Kung Fu Cyborg (2009); the romantic comedy The Fantastic Water Babes (2010); the time travel/Wu Xia film Just Another Pandoras Box (2010); East Meets West (2011), a comedy wherein Eastern deities become superheroes; and A Chinese Odyssey Part 3 (2016).
Other adaptations of Journey to the West and the tales of the Monkey King include:- the Japanese film Monkey Sun (1940); the Chinese animated Princess Iron Fan (1941); the Japanese film Songoku: The Road to the West/The Adventures of Sun Wu Hung (1959); the Japanese anime Alakazam the Great (1961); the Chinese animated film The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven (1965), which is the best adaptation of the story to date; a trilogy of live-action films from Hong Kongs Shaw Brothers Monkey Goes West (1966), Princess Iron Fan (1966) and The Cave of the Silken Web (1967); the popular the Japanese tv series Monkey (1978-9); a South Korean tv series Journey to the West (1982); a Japanese tv series Journey to the West (1993); a Japanese anime tv series Monkey Magic (1998); the US tv mini-series The Monkey King/The Lost Empire (2001) starring Thomas Gibson; the Hong Kong tv mini-series The Monkey King (2002); a Japanese tv series Saiyuki (2006), which had one film spinoff with Saiyuki (2007); the US-made Jackie Chan/Jet Li vehicle The Forbidden Kingdom (2008); the modernised Emperor Visits the Hell (2012); Stephen Chows Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013) and its sequel Journey to the West: Demon Chapter (2017); The Monkey King (2014) starring Donnie Yen and its sequels The Monkey King 2 (2016) and The Monkey King 3 (2018) with Aaron Kwok; and the Chinese animated Monkey King: The Hero is Back (2015).