This three-hour made-for-television epic based on the classic Chinese story Journey to the West is an engaging mix of fantasy and martial-arts adventure, and it features a veritable tsunami of special effects. The plot involves an American China scholar (played by Thomas Gibson) whose knowledge of Asian mythology becomes astoundingly useful when he is magically transported into other dimensions by terra cotta warriors who come to life. The American scholar soon finds himself face to face with a wisecracking Monkey King (Russell Wong), a mystical warrior whose martial-arts skills are matched only by his sarcastic one-liners. The mismatched heroes have only three days to find an ancient manuscript and thereby save the world from destruction, and they’re assisted by the timely interventions of the Goddess of Mercy (played by Bai Ling).
The rambling plot puts the characters into confrontations with tigers, dragons, and evil giants, and at times they’re joined by such unorthodox allies as a human with the head of a pig. As his quest progresses, the scholar has to learn to think like a warrior, and there are innumerable obstacles put in his path. Even if the plot doesn’t always seem terribly coherent, the computer-generated special effects are entertaining, and the film has no shortage of bizarre villains, flashy martial-arts scenes, and sardonic quips from the Monkey King. –Robert J. McNamara