Film scores

Soundtrack review: The monkey king (Christopher Young – 2014)

monkey

“The Monkey King” is a 2014 Hong Kong – Chinese fantasy film directed by Cheang Pou-soi and starring Donnie Yen as the titular protagonist. Yen also serves as the film’s action director. The plot is based on an episode of Journey to the West, a Chinese literary classic written in the Ming Dynasty by Wu Cheng’en. Sun Wukong, (The Monkey King) is a monkey born from a heavenly stone who acquires supernatural powers. After rebelling against heaven and being imprisoned under a mountain for 500 years, he later accompanies the monk Xuanzang on a journey to India. Thus, according to legend, Buddhism is brought to ancient China. The score by Christopher Young has been eagerly awaited because it had been praised as the best unreleased score of 2014.

I barely have time to remark happily that this is a score made of very long cues that war starts in my ears. The bombastic percussion, the relentless string section coming to me like a storm of arrows launched by skillful archers and the horns that announce their arrival makes me want to get out of the way. “Yu Huang Da Di, The Jade Emperor” is a massive and powerful opening worthy of one of the most brilliant composers of our time. Once this introduction is over there is time for me to catch my breath with the sensitive theme for “Tieshan Gongzhu, The Iron Fan Princess”. Every cue is dedicated to and named after one of the characters in the story as if they were collectible cards. I like this; it’s just one more innovation in Christopher Young’s career.

What would a Chinese folk inspired score be without deep, somber male choirs to complete the relentless percussion? They first appear in “Ao Kuang, The Dragon King Of East Sea”, a cue that also gives me the sensation of watching on of those Asian paper puppet shows. I see the cardboard sea moving, I see someone maneuvering the dolls and I still believe the fantasy.

The reason I love long, suite like cues is that the music has time to develop and flow naturally. Many of the moments in “The Monkey king” actually make me think of Howard Shore’s epic compositions for “Lord of the rings”. I get the same feeling of a long and difficult journey, of something durable and legendary. Christopher Young might not go as far as Howard Shore did with the epic factor but he comes mighty close in “Nuwa, The Goddess Of Works”. I love getting this feeling back and I love listening to a cue that makes me worry that film music cannot get any better.

“The monkey king” was definitely worth the wait and word of mouth. Every second of this is epic and beautiful and I loved taking this journey. This epical musical tapestry is yet another treasure from a composer that never disappoints. Grab this one with both hands and ears!

Cue rating: 96 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 60 / 69

Album excellence: 87%

Highlights:

Yu Huang Da Di, The Jade Emperor

Tieshan Gongzhu, The Iron Fan Princess

Ao Kuang, The Dragon King Of East Sea

Nuwa, The Goddess Of Works

Guanyin, The Goddess Of Mercy

Subhüti, The Old Master

Niu Mo Wang, The Buffalo Demon King

Sun Wukong, The Monkey King

 

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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