TASTE OF LOVE (2015) review

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The enormous success of Stephen Chow’s Journey To The West: Conquering the Demons, Soi Cheang’s The Monkey King and Tian Xiaopeng’s animated Monkey King: Hero is Back has sparked a literal avalanche of  films based on Wu Cheng’en’s seminal 16th century novel. Expected in the coming years are Tsui Hark’s Journey To The West 2, Soi Cheang’s The Monkey King 3, Derek Kwok’s Wu Kong, Wang Baoqiang’s contemporary transposition Buddies in India, Jeff Lau’s A Chinese Odyssey 3, Tian Xiaopeng’s Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven, and probably a few more that haven’t yet been announced. They’ll leverage medium to massive budgets and feature some of the most popular actors of today, including Kris Wu, Yao Chen, Aaron Kwok, Gong Li, William Feng, Eddie Peng, Shawn Yue, Ni Ni, Wu Jing, Karen Mok, and a lot of others we won’t mention for brevity’s sake. And kind of like the Asylum productions that pick up the crumbs left by big Hollywood Summer tentpoles (think Transmorphers, Atlantic Rim or The Almighty Thor), Miao Shu’s Taste of Love got a head start on all the aforementioned A-list productions with a December release where it didn’t register in the least at the box office.

500 years ago, three spirits escaped from Heaven, but Wukong (Jayden Yuan) got separated from Zixia (Jill Hsu) and Bukong (Steve Yoo). Now they’ve all taken human form as the latter two head an army to fight the Bull Demon (Lau Wing Kin). It is during one of those battles that Zixia recognizes Wukong, with whom she was in love, as one of the enemy’s surgeons. But when she finally gets a chance to meet him she realizes he has forgotten his own identity. Oblivious to Bukong who loves her unrequitedly, she pursues Wukong with her affection, until Buddha sends Lord Erlangshen (Sammy Hung) to restore order and reclaim the three escaped spirits. Taste of Love is constantly constrained by its obviously small budget: all spirits and demons appear in human form throughout, which is fine when it’s a story point, but less so when it’s an obvious corner-cutting ploy. The Bull Demon, for instance, has no reason to be in human form and is just a normal guy with a slightly ridiculous giant horned helmet. Fights among demons are limited to simple martial arts skirmishes, with the occasional eye-gouging CGI flourish, awkward, jerky wirework and some truly clumsy under-cranking alternating with clumsy slow-motion. The only time that we see spirits in (amateurishly rendered) non-human form, the film takes it as an occasion to pilfer from Monster Hunt by having the baby-spirit form of the Monkey King look exactly like that film’s radish-like baby-monster.

Worse yet, the film is a narrative waste-land, sandwiching incredibly repetitive and uninvolving romantic drama between two battle scenes where a few dozen extras flail around with their cardboard blades, while the score tries to convince you something epic is happening. The bulk of the film’s already skimpy 80-minute runtime is devoted to a rote love triangle, as poor Steve Yoo looks on in agony with a constipated expression on his face while Jill Hsu pursues Jayden Yuan. After his passable introduction in the Tai Chi films, it’s surprising that Yuan chose – or was only offered – this turkey, and he’s insipid throughout, with the same befuddled expression in every scene and only one short scene to showcase his martial arts abilities.  Sammy Hung escapes the film unscathed as he makes for a reasonably charismatic Erlangshen, though nobody’s likely to notice.

Long Story Short : A pointless, amateurish bore and probably the worst Monkey King film there is, Taste of Love at least has the good taste to not exceed 80 minutes. *

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