The Monkey King is a 2023 Netflix animated fantasy, action, and comedy film inspired by the classic Ming dynasty novel Journey to the West.
Directed by Anthony Stacchi, the movie features Jimmy O. Yang as the voice of the main trickster character who takes on the Dragon King, voiced by Bowen Yang. Other voice talents in the film include Jo Koy, BD Wong, Jolie Hoang-Rappaport, and Stephanie Hsu.
The 22nd New York Asian Film Festival showcased it as their closing presentation, premiering globally on July 30, 2023. Netflix released it for worldwide viewing on August 18, 2023. Critics gave the film varied reviews.
What Is The Monkey King About?
Drawing inspiration from the legendary Ming Dynasty tale “Journey to the West”—arguably China’s most celebrated story—Stephen Chow produces “The Monkey King.”
This animated action-comedy brings to life the mischievous Monkey character, voiced by Jimmy O. Yang, as he confronts dragons, demons, and his most formidable adversary—his pride.
Wielding a sentient magic staff, this divine monkey sets out to conquer 100 demons and the formidable Dragon King, portrayed by SNL’s Bowen Yang. Lin, a spirited village girl voiced by Jolie Hoang-Rappaport, enters his journey, challenging the Monkey’s self-centered perspectives and introducing him to the essence of compassion.
This voice cast showcases a diverse range of Asian American talents, including the likes of Jo Koy, BD Wong, Stephanie Hsu from “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” and many others.
Is The Monkey King Any Good?
Despite budgetary setbacks, Netflix’s animation team remains a beacon of creativity. Were they to grace theaters, they might eclipse some of Disney and Pixar’s recent less-than-stellar releases.
This isn’t to say that their newest work is on par with the mesmerizing, Oscar-winning Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, but it’s notable in its own right.
Drawing inspiration from the classic 16th-century Chinese novel, Journey to the West, this new adaptation pulsates with vigor and features delightful details.
One standout is Bowen Yang’s portrayal of the Dragon King, a theatrical villain with a catchy musical number about embracing moisturization, hinting at a soon-to-be metrosexual anthem.
However, the Dragon King’s screen time is fleeting, overshadowed by the less captivating Monkey, voiced by Jimmy O Yang. This audacious character, born from stone and burdened by immense ego, snatches the Dragon King’s versatile, magical staff.
On his quest for eternal life, Monkey embarks on escapades familiar to those who recall the late 1970s Japanese TV series Monkey, which brought Journey to the West to a global audience.
The series was especially popular among late-night viewers and inadvertently became a hit with worldwide stoner audiences.
The film effectively portrays The Monkey King as a powerful yet arrogant figure, lacking in wisdom and humility. Jimmy O. Yang’s rendition breathes life into this character quite impressively. The animation medium is apt for this narrative, offering a dynamic sense of movement for the characters against a backdrop of fantastical settings.
Despite the Monkey King’s audacity, the film ensures he doesn’t become overly irritating by pairing him with his silent yet expressive Stick weapon and the character, Lin, both of whom balance out his persona.
The movie stays true to its source, but sometimes emphasizes its humorous elements more than necessary. Bowen Yang’s portrayal as the Dragon King, the main antagonist, is commendable, yet the film leans into a familiar trend seen in European and Asian animations, where villains are often more comedic than menacing.
“The Monkey King” is a satisfactory animated feature. It doesn’t redefine its narrative but offers an enjoyable watch with captivating sequences and performances. Should the creators decide on a sequel, I’d be keen to see it.
The Monkey King | Official Trailer | Netflix
What The Critics Are Saying
— David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“[The Monkey King] mines rich source material for a widely accessible episodic adventure laced with rowdy martial arts clashes and fantastical detours. Even if its Americanization follows a standard template, the movie maintains a flavorful sprinkling of the material’s cultural specificity, its spiritual elements and its philosophical lessons about hubris and humility.”
— Arezou Amin, Collider
“Between the strong message and relatable character journey at the heart, as well as the absolutely stunning animation that makes up the film, we are truly living in an unprecedented era for the medium. It is a joy to get the chance to experience new stories from a wider range of storytellers who just want the chance to share art that matters to them. Studios should not be afraid to try new things and new styles, especially when passion means it pays off this spectacularly.”
— Alex Harrison, ScreenRant
“Plot-wise, The Monkey King covers a lot of ground; the title character and Lin seem to pursue a new goal every few minutes. But without connecting what he does back to who he is, how are we supposed to care? … There are pluses here, especially the playful choreography and composition of its action sequences. The heart of the problem is The Monkey King makes its central character, whose story has been told and retold for hundreds of years, uninteresting.”
Monkey King (2023) Cast
- Jimmy O. Yang – Monkey King (voice)
- Bowen Yang – Dragon King (voice)
- Jolie Hoang-Rappaport – Lin (voice)
- Jo Koy – Benbo (voice)
- Ron Yuan – Babbo (voice)
- Nan Li – Stick (voice)
- Andrew Pang – Mayor (voice)
- Stephanie Hsu – Mayor’s Wife (voice)
- Sophie Wu – Child Monkey / Red Girl (voice)
- Hoon Lee – Jade Emperor / Monk (voice)
- Andrew Kishino – Demon of Havoc / King Yama (voice)
- Jodi Long – Wangmu (voice)
- BD Wong – Buddha (voice)
- Dee Bradley Baker – Baby Monkey King (voice)
- Robert Wu – Palace Minister / Pigsy (voice)
- David Chen – Sandy / Palace Minister (voice) (as David Jordan Chen)
- James Sie – Elder Monkey (voice)
- Kieran Regan – Cage Baby Monkey (voice)
- Kuno Inghram – Mayor’s Son / Child Monkey (voice)
- Mark Benninghofen – Cuttlefish (voice)
- Vic Chao – Hat Villager (voice)
- Sofia Aguirre – Village Children Choir (voice)
- Hayden Almeraz – Village Children Choir (voice)
- Bailey Almeraz – Village Children Choir (voice)
- Elijah Kim – Village Children Choir (voice)
- Mila Tambaoan – Village Children Choir (voice)
- Nara Thompson – Village Children Choir (voice)
- Artemis Snow – Lost Baby Villager (voice)
- Kaiji Tang – Old Man Villager (voice)