Film scores

Soundtrack review: The Monkey King 2 (Christopher Young – 2016)

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“The Monkey King 2” is a 2016 Hong Kong-Chinese fantasy film based on the classic novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. The film was shot in 3D and is a sequel to the 2014 box office hit The Monkey King with Cheang Pou-soi returning as director and Sammo Hung as action director, who replaces Donnie Yen’s role from the previous installment. The film stars Aaron Kwok, who portrayed the main antagonist in the previous installment, as the film’s titular protagonist, who also replaces Yen from the previous installment. When a travelling monk is stranded in a wasteland, The Monkey King must escort him across the land to retrieve sacred scriptures and protect him from an evil demon. Christopher Young returned to write the music after his stunning effort for the first film.

Christopher Young has become a cult composer in the past few years; I as well wait with reverence for each of his releases and this one in particular stirs up things inside me. I have a huge thing for Asian influenced scores and I will follow Young wherever he wants to take me. Just like the first score, “The Monkey King 2” is divided into very long movements and once again each of them describes a place or a character. I enjoy their flow because they give me the feeling of a story, of a legend, of something developing and evolving. They are all chapters of this wonderful musical book Christopher Young has written.

The blend of Asian instruments and epic orchestral motifs works very well. The fabric is Chinese but the music overall is much more than that. It lets me know that feelings and sensitivity merge with action to paint a compelling landscape. This is my favorite kind of adventure music because it keeps me guessing and it doesn’t settle in one zone. All the characters are different so their respective themes take me through a variety of emotions. “The pig demon” sounds playful with the mix of flute and brass sections while “The basilisk demon” gets an action oriented theme.

This is the kind of score that makes me imagine attending the recording sessions. There are some movements inside “Baigujing, Lady White Bone” for example that get me excited about how they were made by the orchestra. I would watch those sections as I would the highlight reel of a hockey game. This particular theme sounds like a wonderful improvisation and hide and seek play between the instruments; brilliant cue from Young.

With the almost Tibetan monk incantation like “The King of Yun Hai Xi Kingdom” the composer dives even deeper into Chinese legend lore and connects his score to the story at hand. “Monkey King’s Staff” is so beautiful it almost gets me teary eyed. I just love exploring his ideas and the way he puts them into music. “The Monkey King 2” is a fascinating musical studies and one of those score you will not be able to forget. It’s beautiful and majestic and it represents complex and intelligent film music writing at its best. I hope the franchise will continue.

Cue rating: 97 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 66 / 76

Album excellence: 86%

Highlights:

The Golden Hoop

Lady White Bone

The Monk

The King of Yun Hai Xi Kingdom

Monkey King’s Staff

The Sand Demon

The Goddess of Mercy

Bat Demon

White Dragon Horse

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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