Monkey King Reborn Blu-Ray Review: A Slam-Bang Anime Buddhist Parable

The Monkey King Reborn is yet another telling of Journey to the West or The Monkey King. This time it's a Chinese CGI animated movie about the demigod Sun Wukong and his fellow demons as they escort the monk Tang Sanzang on his pilgrimage to India to collect the Buddhist scriptures to bring back to China.

Monkey King Reborn Blu-Ray Review: An Anime Buddhist Parable
"The Monkey King Reborn" cover art, Wellgo USA.

The plot of this movie is a stop on their journey as Wukong, Bajie ("Pig"), and Sha Wujing ("Sand Priest") escort Tang Sanzang rest at a temple. The apprentices piss off Wukong with their snide remarks about his being a demon, so they steal holy fruit from their tree as a snack for him and his fellow demons. The resulting fight destroys a holy tree that was the prison of a Demon King who proceeds to take Tang hostage and threatens to call forth a demon army to destroy the world. Wukong and the party set out to rescue their master and free a spirit of Chi energy who is the only one who can imprison the Demon King again. The little spirit takes the form of an insanely cute foetus who becomes attached to the grouchy Wukong. Wukong is horrified to realise that the little spirit will have to die to stop the Demon King and does his best to bring down the Demon King on his own with disastrous results. Wukong has to learn to sacrifice something he loves to save the world and bear the karmic burden before everything can be restored.

Monkey King Reborn Blu-Ray Review: An Anime Buddhist Parable
"The Monkey King Reborn" still, Wellgo USA.

Chinese CGI animation is going through a moment right now. It's become as slick as anything from Hollywood and Japan, and they're doubling down on fantasy stories that retell tales from Chinese folklore and Buddhist teachings. The Monkey King Reborn starts from comedy and raucous slapstick and gradually becomes more serious, then all hell (literally) breaks loose, and things get serious. This all-ages movie teaches Buddhist lessons that life is suffering and the need to let go of ego and attachments with a sentimentality that is shamelessly manipulative but completely typical of Chinese storytelling. The story of the Monkey King was a Tang Dynasty satire about greed, avarice, and violence on the way to Enlightenment, and even when everything explodes into epic CGI battles, those lessons are embedded in the story. This is a trend in Chinese animation now with movies like this one, New Gods: Nezha Reborn, Zhang Ziya, and this year's animation blockbuster Green Snake. It's definitely a trend and a crash course in Taoist Buddhism.

The Monkey King Reborn is out on VOD and Blu-Ray from Wellgo USA.

The Monkey King Reborn

Monkey King Reborn Blu-Ray Review: An Anime Buddhist Parable
Review by Adi Tantimedh

Another side story from the Journey to the West story from the Tang Dynasty, this goes from farce and slapstick to epic battles and shamelessly weepy climax to tell a deeply Buddhist parable about karma, sacrifice and letting go.

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About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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