A Chinese Odyssey 1: Pandora’s Box is still the most inventive re-imagination of Journey to the West by Hong Kong cinema. But it’s also a prime example of HK tasteless 90s goofy humour.
A Chinese Odyssey Part 1: Pandora’s Box (西遊記第壹佰零壹回之月光寶盒) Synopsis
The rebellious Monkey King, Sun Wukong, is subdued by Guanyin after he betrays his master Tang Sanzang (Longevity Monk). The benevolent monk, however, sacrifices himself to give his wayward disciple a second chance. 500 years later, Joker, the leader of a gang of outlaws, encounters two demons and discovers he could be the reincarnation of the Monkey King. After a series of mishaps and adventures, Joker finds the mysterious Pandora’s Box and learns about its time-traveling power. Upon using the power, he also sets in motion a new series of events. Events that could lead to him returning to his true self of the Monkey King.
I watched A Chinese Odyssey 1: Pandora’s Box twice in the late 90s. Both times on Saturday night free television.
Both times, I wasn’t enticed enough by what I saw to move on to the sequel, or should I say, Part 2. The truth is, while I love many things about Hong Kong, I’ve never appreciated HK cinematic mou lei tow (wacky/goofy/WTF) humour from the 80s and 90s. Frankly, I wouldn’t even have watched this 90s production back then, had I not been a big fan of Journey to the West since young.
Rewatching this in 2020, and I regret to say, the goofiness and toilet humour feel as tasteless as ever, if not worse. This is especially tragic given that 25 years after its release, Pandora’s Box is still the most audacious retelling of Journey that I’ve ever come across. No other retelling remotely comes close to it. In other words, the creativity was utterly wasted.
Doubly sad too when one considers the later career milestones of the leads. As in, when they demonstrate they are capable of more than nonsensical banter or sexual innuendoes.
But I ought not to be too critical. After all, in the case of Stephen Chow, these distasteful romps were obviously the lead-in to his much better productions of the post-2000s. For example, Kung Fu Hustle.
I should add that I finally feel inclined to check out Part 2 too. I suspect I wouldn’t find it awesome. But it should at least provide for some sort of analytical afterthought.
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