Troublemakers in mythology are often the catalysts for big events or the ones who propel the protagonists on their journey. That is what sets The Monkey King apart from everyone else: the fact that the troublemaker is at the center of things. The origin of the tale of the monkey king and his journey to the West is from a few hundred years ago, and despite the folklore-ish nature of it, we cannot help but think of it as a human story. What has always set the monkey king apart from the others is his inability to succumb to the circumstances. He does what he pleases, and no mission is too big or no obstacle so insurmountable that he cannot figure out a way to get past it, yet all of it is in the pursuit of love and acceptance. What can be more human than this, with the vices and virtues combined that truly make him one of a kind? We would also like to point out the evolutionary angle that connects humans to monkeys, though we don’t know if it was a conscious choice of the storyteller or a happy accident. Now that we have another story about the disruptive monkey king, which is a prequel to “Journey to the West”, let us see what we think of him through this recap.
How Does The Monkey King Become Immortal?
There is really no explanation as to why a rock gave birth to a monkey. Maybe by othering and isolating him, Buddha wanted the Monkey King to become someone who would change the narrative of the world. And that is exactly what happened. The Monkey (we will be calling him Monkey for the duration of the article because that is what he is called throughout) was never accepted by other monkeys, despite him looking like them, because he never behaved the way they did. It was also a factor that he was not a part of the clan and had come from the outside. Therefore, most of what Monkey did was centered around how to get them to accept him, and he found an inkling of a solution with the troublesome demon next door. Monkey needed a powerful weapon to defeat the demon, and he effortlessly stole it from the Dragon King. By the looks of it, the stick was also waiting for someone like Monkey to come along.
With the help of the stick, Monkey defeated the demon, but he was told that the gods would not care about that. In an effort to make them care, Monkey set off on his next mission, which was to kill at least 100 demons so that the gods would notice him and include him within their ranks, finally giving him a place where he could belong. But while the gods continue to reject him, Monkey finds that the Dragon King is after his life to get back the stick, and he even plants a little girl, Lin, by Monkey’s side to win his trust and steal the stick. Monkey doesn’t want Lin by his side. He has grown so used to being alone, along with equating affection and acceptance to power, that he doesn’t realize that the companionship he has been craving has finally come to him.
When the gods don’t acknowledge him, Monkey decides to become an immortal on his own terms, and the first step to that is to go to hell to erase his date of death from his scroll. It is a successful mission indeed, but imagine Monkey’s irritation when he realizes that it has only made him “half-immortal”, as in, he won’t die of old age, but he can still die. Therefore, if he wants true immortality, he needs to check out a book, as unintentionally suggested by Yama. We are surprised that Monkey did not catch on to Lin’s deception at this point. He relies on her to get them to the garden of peaches since she is the only one who can read, but when she takes him to a place designed by the Dragon King, his mission fails.
The peaches don’t have the same effect on him that they do on others, and that is a crucial reason as to why he escaped unharmed from them. He sort of blames Lin for the mishap, but we don’t think he fully trusts that allegation at that point. But the mission is far from over, and they find that an old woman brews the elixir of immortality that can help Monkey get what he wants. This mission is far more successful, and Monkey gets his heart’s desire by becoming a complete immortal. It also makes Lin realize that she cares for him and doesn’t want him to get hurt. But she ultimately cannot stop herself from betraying him as she hands over the stick to the Dragon King, who ends up reneging on his promise to her. Yet, the biggest takeaway from this scene is that as furious as Monkey is with Lin, he still saves her life at a critical moment, confirming that he isn’t evil.
Why Is The Monkey King Trapped In The Mountain?
The Dragon King is drunk on the stick’s power and is out to destroy the world, and the only person who isn’t scared of him is Monkey, who wants his stick back at any cost. He is not going to die since he is an immortal, and he is done with the games being played by others to trample on him. As he and the Dragon King dance their deadly duet, Lin steps in with some help by lying to the latter that electricity would kill Monkey. However, that ends up making him stronger, and Monkey is able to get his hands on the stick, finally vanquishing the Dragon King and his cronies once and for all. But now, he is the one who is out of control. He may not be out to destroy the world, but his actions are sure to lead him in that direction. This is the moment that Buddha steps into the picture to calm down this tantrum-throwing, oversized child. He takes Lin’s help for it because, in this whole wide world, she is the only one who cares for him and loves him. Therefore, she wouldn’t want to just punish him but would know how to deal him the tough love that would set him on the right path once again. By challenging him to jump off Buddha’s palm, she proves to him that he is not the most powerful being in the universe and that there are things he has yet to learn.
During The Monkey King’s ending, Monkey is sulking in the cave when Lin comes to meet him one last time and gives him back his stick. They apologize to each other and declare their friendship right before the mountain closes up and traps Monkey in it for 500 years, until he is once again released for the journey to the West, where he is as chaotic as ever. The scrolls written by Lin are going to be important in his upcoming quest, and it is time for him to discover how he can be the hero the world and himself need.
Other than the somewhat overindulgent action sequences, we liked The Monkey King. We love seeing an imperfect protagonist on screen, and we would go as far as to say that this is appropriate viewing for children. Let them see what it means to learn to be good and try to correct your mistakes, not to mention that the Monkey King is one of the more interesting mythological figures. With some patience, this is a great watch.