Journey to the West
Director: Dashan Kong
Starring: Haoyu Yang, Liya Ai, Qiming Jiang, Yitong Wang
Mixing mockumentary stylings with a standard narrative format, Dashan Kong’s Journey to the West is a strange beast, much like its lead character Tang Zhijun (Yang), a UFO enthusiast who publishes an extraterrestrial-themed magazine for little reward. Based on the 16th-century Chinese literary classic, rather than searching for holy scriptures, Tang and his cohorts Qin (Liya), Xiao (Chen Chen), and Narisu (Qiming) head to rural Southwestern China to investigate possible UFO activity in the area. A local poet, Sun (Yitong), also comes across information regarding the potential alien landings and joins the team on their mission to uncover the truth that’s out there.
"The performances throughout are uniformly fine, but the oddball nature of the characters makes it hard at times to truly connect with any of them."
Combining elements of mystery, comedy, science fiction, drama, and road movies (albeit with varying degrees of success), Journey to the West is a true slow-burner in every sense of the term, Kong really stretches the narrative and takes his time allowing the characters to make their journey to their hopeful destination. The issue is that in doing so, the film runs itself ragged by the end of it as it struggles to carry the burden of its ensemble, various story threads, and genre inspirations. It’s easy to imagine a tighter film (in terms of runtime) being far more effective with its overall story and end product.
The performances throughout are uniformly fine, but the oddball nature of the characters makes it hard at times to truly connect with any of them. The stumbling use of humour also proved to be an issue as, at times, some of the attempted jokes or comedy fell flat which sucked the atmosphere from particular sequences. That said, there were times when the gags landed and the overall tone still remained one of constant earnestness.
Whilst it isn’t always entirely successful in what it is trying to achieve, Journey to the West is an incredibly human and oddly philosophical film, Kong and co-writer Yitong Wang really went to lengths to imbue the screenplay with emotion and intelligence throughout that culminates to provide a conclusion that carried real weight. It’s just a shame that the film was overly long and carried too many lulls in momentum that frustratingly derailed the initial madcap energy that Journey to the West provided.
August 6th 2023