It’s time to bid farewell to the Year of the Sheep as the Year of the Monkey is just around the corner. To welcome the New Year with gusto, grab some bananas and let’s watch some of the best movies that have monkeys in the leading role!
But with so many movies on monkeys, where to even begin? Let this list help you narrow down, somewhat, your choices for the best movies that star monkeys.
“The Monkey King 2”
There’s one coming up right on time for Chinese New Year! Sorry Aaron Kwok fans, you’ll barely be able to recognise the actor in his Sun Wukong getup but this movie will of course be worth a watch since it is based on the main character in the widely-known Chinese classical novel, “Journey to the West”.
The movie is a sequel to 2014’s “The Monkey King”, starring Donnie Yen. Though this is not the first movie to be based on the character (or on the novel for that matter, more on that later), another movie with the same name, and understandably similar story, is 1965’s animated movie “The Monkey King”. If you’re looking for a more recent animated movie, there’s always the award-winning, highest-grossing Chinese animated movie (it even beat “Kung Fu Panda 2”!), 2015’s “Monkey King: Hero Is Back”.
Another noteworthy movie that centers on the same protagonist – the Monkey King, just to refresh your memory – are 2008’s “The Forbidden Kingdom”, a Rob Minkoff-directed movie starring Michael Angarano, Collin Chou and Jackie Chan working together to free the imprisoned Jet Li-portrayed Monkey King.
Late last year, it was also announced that Los Angeles-based Abstract Entertainment and China’s Eracme Entertainment will be working together to bring the story of Sun Wukong to the English-language screens.
“Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons”
And as mentioned above, there have been many adaptations of the popular Chinese novel. If you want a good LOL (laugh out loud, yes) this Chinese New Year then revisit this 2013 Stephen Chow fantasy movie. Helmed by the comedy auteur, the movie – starring Shu Qi, Show Luo and Huang Bo as the Monkey King (who, of course, needs to be in every adaptation as he is vital to the stories) – is funny and entertaining, though you might want to refrain from eating (hold the bananas) as some parts can get a little graphically repulsive – also you might LOL too much you can barely eat.
If you want to see Stephen Chow himself starring in the movie, and not just directing, then watch him and his monkey acts in the two part 1995 “A Chinese Odyssey”. As you can easily deduct, the funny man stars as the Monkey alongside other stars such as Athena Chu, Karen Mok and Ng Man-tat. The movie is loosely based on the novel and also incorporates wuxia, a genre of Chinese fiction about martial arts.
For an adaptation that truly twists the story of the legendary pilgrimage of monk Xuanzang and his three disciples (Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing), watch 2005’s Hong Kong movie “A Chinese Tall Story”. Spoiler: it’s out of this world.
The journey for this novel’s big screen adaptation is endless, as of now, even a 3D version is in the making. Beijing Ruyi Xinxin Film Investment and Paramount Pictures are producing “Where the Road Leads to”, set for release in summer 2017.
“Planet of the Apes”
Okay, so these are apes, not monkeys per se. But still, most people seem to think they’re interchangeable anyway. And both make great movie subjects. Anyway, this is a tough one. We can’t exactly narrow this down, so…enjoy the whole original and reboot series! The first movie, based on French author Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel “La Planète des Singes”, was released back in 1968. The success of it spawned four sequels from 1970 to 1973.
In 2001, eccentric director Tim Burton made his own remake of the popular franchise. Despite receiving mixed reviews, the movie did go on to make USD362.2 million worldwide. Unfortunately, it was never followed up with a sequel due to the director’s reluctance to go through the grueling production again.
However, the franchise is once again revived after the release of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” in 2011. Screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver rebooted the franchise by reinventing Caesar’s story, the lead chimpanzee in 1972’s “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”. Andy Serkis, via performance capture acting, stars as Caesar in both the 2011 movie and its sequel, 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”. The movies were very well-received, garnering many nominations and accolades, and a third instalment is on its way – “War of the Planet of the Apes”, releasing in 2017.
The moment you say “monkey movies” (“ape movies” just doesn’t have the same ring to it), you cannot exclude King Kong. If you’re unfamiliar with the multiple versions it’s had over the years, start off by watching 2005’s Oscar-winning “King Kong”, directed by also Oscar-winner Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings” trilogy).
The granddaddy of all monkey movies, this movie monster that resembles an overly oversized gorilla first appeared on the big screen in 1933’s “King Kong”. A sequel “Son of Kong” soon followed, very soon as it was also released in the same year. It took another 29 years before another movie on King Kong was made, but this time it came from Japan and naturally, the country’s arguably most iconic colossal monster Godzilla is in it, hence the title “King Kong vs. Godzilla” – a new version of this epic fight is reportedly in the making so expect to see it sometime in 2020.
Some of the movies starring Kong had been a hit-and-miss, the 1976 version was lucky enough to have gained a much better reputation over the years but 1986’s “King Kong Lives” remains as one of the weakest of the bunch.
Next year, “Kong: Skull Island” is set to be released. Set in 1971 Detroit, the movie stars Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson with a supporting cast made up of Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, Tom Wilkinson, Corey Hawkins, Thomas Mann and more.
“Bye Bye Monkey”
This one is for those with a flair for the dramatics. Imagine you find the corpse of the great ape mentioned in the entry above and proceeded to raise his orphaned son like your own, that is the story told here. Though this Italian-French movie starring Gérard Depardieu and directed by Marco Ferreri holds a deeper meaning, this might not be something for the whole family on the account of the rape and the bleak ambience overall. Again, this is more for those who shun blockbusters and prefer a sombre, meaningful movie to ponder on as they usher in the Year of the Monkey.