Tag Archives: Jimmy O. Yang

Royal Pain

The Monkey King

by George Wolf

This year’s animated features have already wowed us with spiders and turtles, so why not monkeys?

Netflix gives it a go with the latest take on a well-loved story from Chinese literature, landing scattershot moments of humor and visual flair amid a rambling narrative grasping for anything to call its own.

Our titular Monkey King (voiced by Jimmy O. Yang) is on a quest, too. After being born from a magical rock, his exuberance and ambition gets him exiled from his village for being an agent of chaos. The Immortals in Heaven insist on the rules of balance, and the little Monkey King just cannot follow them.

But Buddha himself (BD Wong) intercedes, telling the Jade Emperor (Hoon Lee) that a great destiny awaits the Monkey King. And once he is able to steal “Stick” (Nan Li), the all-powerful Grand Column of the undersea Dragon King (Bowen Yang), Monkey King sets out to vanquish 100 demons and earn his place among the highest Immortals.

The writing team of Rita Hsiao (Mulan, Toy Story 2), and Steve Bencich and Ron J. Friedman (Open Season, Brother Bear) sets effective stakes early on, but then struggles to give the tale an emotional anchor. We never really care that Monkey King is not being accepted because he doesn’t seem interested in earning it, even tossing aside the help of the earnest Lin (Jolie Haong-Rappaport), a wannabe assistant who he feels is beneath him.

Director Anthony Stacchi (Open Season, The Boxtrolls) gives the film an often frantic pace that doesn’t leave much room to breath. And when an action sequence or punch line does land, we’re quickly off to the next distraction, which is especially distracting when it’s an awkward musical number for the Dragon King that you’d swear was an A.I. re-working of The Little Mermaid’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”

There are pluses, including a wonderful voice cast, a vibrant, culturally rich animation pastiche and winking nods to the work of executive producer Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer). But disjointed character arcs and muddled motivations keep the film from crafting a coherent journey. and The Monkey King can never quite escape the chaos.

Clown Show

The Opening Act

by Darren Tilby

The world of stand-up comedy is notoriously difficult and unforgiving. It’s a tough business to break in to, with many clubs unwilling to give newcomers more than five minutes of stage time, and even then, usually only after the comedian has made a bit of a name for themselves. And then there is the audience, who can be less than accommodating, to say the least. It’s toward this struggle that Steve Byrne directs a perceptive and knowing gaze.

Will Chu (a fantastic showing from Jimmy O. Yang), a young Asian man from Ohio, dreams of being a stand-up comic but finds himself frustrated by the lack of willingness of most local venues to give him much of a chance. But, spurred on by his girlfriend, Jen (a brilliant and charming, yet criminally underutilized Debby Ryan), he keeps at it. His big break finally comes when a friend and fellow comedian, Quinn (Ken Jeong), sets him up with a weekend-long gig at the famous Improv club in Pennsylvania. It’s a booking that could make or break Will’s career.

There’s rarely a dull moment during the entirety of The Opening Act’s 90-minute runtime, thanks in no small part to an eclectic cast of colorful characters and their various exploits, most of which Will gets, inadvertently, caught up in. It is in the absurdity of these situations that we find much of the film’s humor. It descends into the ridiculous at times, but there’s also an honesty about it that makes it feel feel, perhaps, not so far- fetched after all.

Tonally, however, the film lacks edge. For instance: at one point, we hear that many comics mock their own pain and suffering as a way of coping. This is a commonly held belief, and it’s a weighty subject, one I should like to have explored more, particularly from an insider’s point-of-view. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really happen. This reluctance to delve into the darker, more cynical side of the industry feels like an oversight and results in the film becoming a little shallow.

But there’s no denying that The Opening Act is a lovely film; a feel-good movie that, despite the occasional mention of drugs and scenes of drinking, seems kind of warm and fuzzy inside. It’s a safe and good-natured movie that’s well-presented, well-written, honest and authentic—and I really enjoyed it.