Reviews

Monkey Shadow Boxing

I thoroughly enjoyed the second season of The New Legends of Monkey on Netflix, which is charming and often witty entrainment with a fine cast putting in versatile performances.

I don’t want to go into a lengthy discussion of the set-up for the first and second series, but instead I’d like to discuss the last episode of season 2: ‘Shadow Boxing’ (directed by Peter Andrikidis and written by Christiaan Van Vuuring). Spoilers ahoy!

But I would like to mention that the entire series is based on the classic 16th century Chinese novel, Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, which has been adapted many times to the screen, including the popular TV series Monkey, a Japanese production (1978-1980).

This version is an Australian-New Zealand co-production featuring a highly diverse cast of actors, with the most important characters being the Monkey King himself, (Chai Hansen), the woman masquerading as the monk Tripitaka (Luciane Buchanan) who is driving the quest to save the world from a demon infestation, and their accompanying gods Pigsy (Josh Thomson) and Sandy (Emilie Cocquerel).

By the time we reach the final episode of season 2 ‘Shadow Boxing’, the quest to find the sacred scrolls that will save the world has been put in jeopardy numerous times, but most dreadfully by the schemes of the demon Hagfish (Simon Prast), who has been controlling demons and gods via his nefarious puppets. In his most daring stunt he creates a shadow version of Monkey himself, using the shadow scroll, in an attempt to defeat Monkey.

It does not go to plan because Hagfish has underestimated Monkey’s self love and borderline narcissism. Monkey lives for enjoyment and novelty, but it means he’s highly distractable and can forget more important goals in his pursuit of mindless self-interest.

When shadow monkey in conjured up and meets his original version he immediately falls in love with his brother, and his only focus from that moment is to befriend his light version and severe his fidelity to dull duty so they can run off together for a lifetime of escapades.

Monkey is initially nonplussed by the dark mirror of himself, but they are so similar, and neither can best each other in a fight – in fact, they enjoy scrapping and like each other’s company. Monkey is attracted by his shadow brother’s insistence on self-indulgence.

When they meet to discuss the situation Monkey explains that saving the world is his job. Shadow Monkey counters ‘But imagine the fun we would have if you quit this boring mission, and you and me spent the rest of eternity playing and having fun.’

Monkey is awfully tempted by this proposal, but he has friends and a purpose now, concepts that Shadow Monkey doesn’t understand. Monkey’s shadow is deeply, poisonously jealous of Monkey’s companions, in particular, Tripitaka.

Shadow Monkey easily kills his maker, Hagfish, and can’t understand why Monkey won’t rid himself of Tripitaka, who he rightly spots as the guide and teacher who influences Monkey to be the best version of himself. So to his mind Tripitaka is the problem, since Monkey is perfect as the lovable, reckless scamp who bounces from one adventure to another without any consideration of others.

In the end, to save the world from the dark version of himself, Monkey must fly into the pure light of the sun to destroy the shadow scroll, which purges Shadow Monkey. This act of self-sacrifice for the greater good saves the world and literates Monkey.

Grieving, Tripitaka brings Monkey back from the dead by using the scroll of creation (at the cost of the real Tripitaka’s life), thus resurrecting Monkey, who returns via an egg on a mountaintop.

But there is always a cosmic balance, and Monkey’s previous nemesis, the Demon Queen Hakuru (Rachel House), is also returned to life. Thus setting up the show for a third season.

This final episode delivers messages about duty, honour, fellowship, bravery, and sacrifice yet never devolves into preachiness thanks to smart banter, good writing, and the charismatic acting of a talented ensemble cast.

Chai Hansen is a wonder in this episode: playing two versions of a trickster God, demonstrating his usual physical ease with the fight scenes and a mastery of a range of emotions in both parts. It is clear he could be a super star in the future.

Season one of The New Legends of Monkey was a very solid start, but in season two the characters develop satisfyingly (in particular Pigsy and Sandy) and the storylines are well laid out. There are cool and interesting characters throughout the season, the demons are often enormous entertainment, and let’s not forget some gorgeous costumes/makeup/hair. I did particularly adore the Librarian (J.J. Fong) in episode two, ‘Quest for Knowledge’.

At ten episodes of just under 30 minutes, it’s very easy to binge the series. Having re-watched sections of season two it reminds me how easy it is to miss nuances and snippets of clever dialogue by racing to the finale.

There is a message in this too: it’s the journey that matters, and this joyful, light show deserves your full attention.

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