THE MONKEY KING: UPROAR IN HEAVEN blu-ray review

China Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 1.78:1

Mandarin: Dolby TrueHD 7.1

Mandarin: Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English, Mandarin

IMDB

MOVIE: 9.5

VIDEO QUALITY: 9.5

AUDIO QUALITY: 10

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 10

EXTRAS: 0

America has Walt Disney. Japan has Hayao Miyazaki.  France has Michel Ocelot. Czech Republic has Jan Svankmajer. Which animator does China have? That’s an easy answer because there is only one famous animator from China and his name is Wan Laiming. Laiming made the first Chinese animated film with Princess Iron Fan in 1941. Twenty years later, he made his second and last film, The Monkey King: Uproar In Heaven, a film that is basically the Snow White or Princess Mononoke of China – in other words – an absolute Chinese animated masterpiece. How ironic that The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven was not only his last animated film, but is still China’s last respectable animated film. I guess the Chinese film industry focused all their time making martial arts films after the early 1960s, but come on, not one high-quality animated film for the past 47 years? I have seen a few other Chinese animated films over the years such as Nezha Conquers the Dragon King, Secrets of the Heavenly book, The Golden Monkey Conquers the Evil, DragonBlade, and Storm Rider Clash of the Evils, but they are all fair and forgettable, far from the high-quality production of The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven.

In Wu Cheng’en’s classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West”, Sun Wukong aka Monkey King is a brave yet mischievous monkey that goes on tons of adventures in all the realms – earth, heaven, and hell. Monkey King: Uproar In Heaven depicts one of the most popular Monkey King stories. We learn about the origin of the Monkey King and how he causes problems for the Jade Emperor. After obtaining the invincible staff of Yu from the Dragon King, Monkey King proclaims himself the “Great Sage Equal to Heaven.” Disturbed by Monkey King’s power and cockiness, the Emperor tries to recruit him with different jobs such as taking care of his horses and peach garden, but Monkey King doesn’t take crap from authority and ends up infuriating the Emperor even more. Since Monkey King has no desire to join him or the rest of the gods, the Emperor sends out his powerful goons and army to stop the Monkey King from causing serious stress to his heavens! Don’t expect to be blown away by the story. Just expect to be blown away by the magical quality of this film.

As popular as Mickey Mouse or Superman, the Monkey King character is one of the most iconic pop culture characters in China, with plentiful movies, tv shows, comics and video games about him. When you watch this movie, you’ll see how it has shaped so many other Chinese fantastical action movies. The animation in The Monkey King: Uproar In Heaven makes the heavens and mythological world come to life. So many other movies have tried to capture the magical essence of the book, but this animated film did it best so far and without CGI!

Let me clarify what exactly is presented on this Chinese Region-free 3D Blu-ray of The Monkey King: Uproar In Heaven. This Blu-ray allows the viewer to watch this movie in 2D or 3D. I don’t have a 3D HDTV or 3D Blu-ray player, so I am only reviewing the 2D. So yes, this Blu-ray will play in your regular Blu-ray player. The new version features a slightly longer edit that stays true to the spirit of the original film, as well as a new soundtrack that combines the original’s traditional Chinese opera arrangements with a symphonic score. Most importantly, the 3D remake introduces all new voices and an amazing cast to play them, including film stars Yao Chen and Chen Daoming. The voices of famous directors Chen Kaige and Feng Xiaogang also make an appearance, in homage to Sun Wukong and Wan Laiming. In other words, this 3D version is not the exact same film as it was in the early 1960s. But don’t panic! This new version is not a George Lucas tamper, but more like Apocalypse Now Redux or Blade Runner Final Cut. Besides the updated remix of the audio and dubbing, this new version is still the original animated film with some newly added “blink-and-you’ll-miss” 3D show-offy scenes for the kiddies. For example, in the original version, when Monkey King is stuck in a bad guy’s huge umbrella, he uses his staff to poke up and pop a hole through the umbrella. In the new version, the filmmakers stealthily changed some animation around to make Monkey King poke his staff towards the viewer as if we are getting poked in the face. No one will notice the difference unless you have watched the original film over and over as I did. I have the original film on English-subtitled Taiwanese DVD. As good as that original film version is, this new film version is 100 times better. Just because the info is not out there, the producers of this re-release absolutely restored this film onto Blu-ray! The video and audio are incredible! Instead of the original film split into two parts (with two sets of end credits), this new version merges the two parts together as one movie, as it should be. Instead of the original film having crummy Chinglish subtitles as on the Taiwanese DVD, this new version has perfect translated English subtitles. I have never seen perfect English subtitles on a video from China in my life until this Blu-ray (Usually, Hong Kong videos have better English subtitles than Chinese videos). Even though the original film was filmed at 1.33:1, the new version cropped to 1.78:1 looks amazing! I noticed a head getting cut off twice due to the cropping, but other than that, the 1080p video quality is a revelation!  This Monkey King Blu-ray is a beautiful work of art come to life in high definition. The colors may seem washed out, but that’s the style of the animation. The colors and detail are absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking, especially after watching the messy Taiwanese DVD for a while now. The Mandarin 7.1 Dolby TrueHD is just unbelievable. Along with the stylized animation, the drums and percussion accompaniment used in this film are heavily influenced by Beijing Opera traditions and they just rock on this Blu-ray. This audio is a new remix and the dubbing is much more intimate and better than the cold dubbing of the original film. The music just sounds totally better, and the surround sounds and subwoofer envelop the room just like a new film. I can’t believe that this Blu-ray is one of my favorite sounding Blu-rays I have heard this year, from any country! Even though the 3D producers tampered with the animation, soundtrack, and dubbing of this old movie, the changes have only left advantages for the viewer. If you really want to see the original film as was shown in the 1960s, then just check out the Taiwanese DVD with crummy English subtitles, fair video, muffled flat audio, and worse dubbing. Furthermore, the original film was censored: In the original, Monkey King finds a gourd full of magical pills (aka drugs). He licks one pill and then the scene awkwardly cuts to another scene. In this Blu-ray version, we have the uncensored version. After Monkey King licks one of the pills, he chugs down the rest of the pills and starts hallucinating. This is one of the few obvious changes I noticed between the Taiwanese DVD and the Chinese Blu-ray. So technically, the Chinese Blu-ray is more of a Director’s Cut than the censored original version shown on the Taiwanese DVD.

Overall, this Blu-ray is the only way to watch this film! A+ for the video, audio, and English subtitles! This Blu-ray also comes in a metal case for people who love fancy packaging. The Blu-ray for The Monkey King: Uproar In Heaven is one of the most impressive Chinese Blu-rays I have seen yet. What an amazing restoration! Buy this Blu-ray before it becomes out of print!

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3 Comments

  1. I have a question about this. I hope that you see my post. When they refer to the 2D version does that mean that this DVD contains both the original 1960’s AND the 2012 3D remake? Also, the original was 106 min. but cut down to 87. I think there was a Japanese import that had the entire version unless it was the 40th anniversary. I wonder why it was cut down. I’m looking to purchase this for our library but I’m skeptical as I don’t want to make a purchase and I’m missing both versions. Unless the set just allows you to watch remake with either the 3D function turned off or on. As we have BD players. And the students may have BD players in their homes, but not necessarily 3D BD players. If that’s the case then I’ll have to find the original film and purchase them separately.

    • Hi Keisha,
      This Blu-ray is only the 2012 version which includes a 2D or 3D option on the disc – it works on regular 2D blu-ray players and 3D blu-ray players.

      As I said in the review, the previous dvd wasn’t the complete version either. Regardless of the length of both versions, the previous dvd version has scenes cut from the movie due to censorship. There is not one complete “original” version of this film on video. If I were you, just buy both versions for your library.

      • Thanks for your reply. I figured that was the case. So now I’ll try and track down both. Too bad the original doesn’t have subs. I saw this at 2013’s New York Int’l Children’s Film Festival so I’ve been taken ever since. It’s a wonder piece of animation work and definitely needs to be seen. Thanks again for you help.


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