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Monkey King: Hero Is Back is a 2015 CG-animated Chinese film from first-time director Tian Xiaoping. It was also the highest-grossing animated film released in China, surpassing Kung Fu Panda 2, before being surpassed in turn by Kung Fu Panda 3 (the record is currently held by Zootopia).

A retelling of the Chinese classic Journey to the West, the story follows the all-powerful Monkey King who once roamed freely between Heaven and Earth, but after angering the Gods, he was imprisoned within an ice cage deep within the mountains. 500 years later, monsters attack a small village and Jiang Liuer, a child flees to the mountains. Unknowingly, he releases the Monkey King, otherwise known as Sun Wukong from his curse. With the help and encouragement from this special child, Monkey King saves the village from the evil monsters.

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The film received an American release on July 29, 2016.

A video game based on the film called Monkey King: Hero Is Back was developed by October Media and Sony Interactive Entertainment, and published by Oasis Games.


Tropes:

  • Adults Are Useless: With the exception of Fa Ming, the adult villagers are never seen looking for their missing children or effectively fending off the monsters. Subverted by Liuer's dad, who kills one of the monsters with his sword before taking another one down with him.
  • American Kirby Is Hardcore: Inverted. While the film itself is mostly family-friendly, the Chinese trailer focused more on the action and drama. The American trailer, on the other hand, chose to promote it like a comedy in the vein of Kung Fu Panda, complete with "Everyone Was Kung Fu Fighting" playing in the background.
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  • Amusing Injuries: In order of most to least victimized by this trope- Hun Dun's monsters, Wukong, Pigsy, Fa Ming, and Liuer.
  • And Then What?: During their stay at the inn, Liuer asks Wukong what he'll do after bringing they bring Sha Ya Tou (and Liuer himself) home.
  • Arc Words: "The Great Sage equalling heaven never dies."
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Wukong, Pigsy, and Hun Dun.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: After Hun Dun receives a power boost from the eclipse, he transforms into a giant worm monster that easily oversizes the rest of the cast.
  • Art Shift: The scenes of Sun Wukong rebelling against Heaven uses a simpler, more traditional art style than the rest of the film.
  • Badass Normal: Fa Ming, and also Liuer's father, who kills two of Hun Dun's monsters before going down.
  • Big Bad: Hun Dun, the demon king.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Wukong to Liuer. He sets himself in between the dragon and Liuer, and scolds Liuer for endangering himself.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Wukong's punishment for attacking heaven.
  • Captured Super-Entity: Sun Wukong is chained and encased in a crystal in a cave by Buddha for trashing heaven.
  • Cheerful Child: Liuer.
  • Badass and Child Duo: Sun Wukong, the Monkey King who single-handedly defeated the entire military force of Heaven and was imprisoned for 500 years, and Liuer, a small, curious boy adopted by a monk.
  • Badass Boast: Pigsy can talk better than he fights. And Liuer does Wukong's boasts for him.
  • Badass Cape: After Sun Wukong's transformation, he wears a long, red scarf-cape.
  • Big Eater: Pigsy, obviously.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Wukong and Pigsy pull one when they arrive to save Liuer and co. from Hun Dun.
  • Blatant Lies: An annoyed Wukong tells Liuer Nezha and the heavenly lords are all women.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Liuer's father is seemingly killed on screen, but no blood is shown. Averted to a minor extent with later scenes: Liuer is seen bleeding from a wound on his hand and a streak of blood appears on Wukong's cheek when Hun Dun slices him. Played straight when the film hides Liuer's "corpse" under a pile of boulders, and to a lesser extent, Wukong only bleeds from one cut despite the high number of hits he took from Hun Dun both physically and via chi blasts.
  • Breaking the Bonds: Sun Wukong during fighting the monsters off.
  • Butt-Monkey: Sun Wukong, and to a lesser extent, Pigsy.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Liuer asks Wukong where his golden cudgel is, and even tries to peek into his ear to find it. It was in Wukong's ear the whole time, but he lacked the power to use it until the final fight with Hun Dun. He then pulls it out while it extends.
  • Chinese People: Takes place in China.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Liuer tells the innkeepers Pigsy and Wukong are good people that just look strange. Pigsy says to Wukong, "the little monk thinks you look strange haha."
  • Constantly Curious: Liuer to Sun Wukong.
  • Creative Closing Credits: Animated in 2-D. Ends with the characters watching the closing credits roll by on a screen.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: When Hun Dun transforms, he trashes Wukong quite brutally. After Liuer's apparent death, Wukong regains his powers and promptly makes short work of Hun Dun.
  • Darkest Hour: The film's climax qualifies as a Despair Event Horizon for the characters. Transformed, Hun Dun easily defeats a battered, still-depowered Wukong. When Liuer tries to help his hero, he manages to buy Wukong some time to free himself from the rock Hun Dun jabbed over him. Hun Dun then crushes Liuer with boulders before Wukong can reach him. And it gets worse. Watching the whole thing, Fa Ming, Pigsy, and Sha Ya Tou make their despair known. After recovering his senses, Wukong sees their reactions and frantically digs through the rocks, only to see Liuer's hand fall limp. While Wukong sobs, Hun Dun continues to rampage in the background.
  • Dark Is Evil: Hun Dun dresses in all black.
  • Determinator: Liuer is determined to safely get "Sha Ya Tou" home no matter what
  • Deadpan Snarker: Wukong, especially in the English subtitles.
  • Decoy Protagonist: A good portion of the film frames Liuer as the protagonist, but it becomes clear that Wukong is the real main character by the end.
  • Defrosting Ice King: Liuer's sweet nature eventually wins Wukong over.
  • De-Power: Sun Wukong spends almost the entire movie with most of his powers locked. When you're capable of taking on an entire pantheon of gods by yourself at full strength, it's necessary to keep things interesting.
  • Disney Death: Liuer
  • Dramedy
  • Dragon Rider: For a brief moment, Wukong mounts on Bai Long, a water dragon, to rescue Liuer.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Hun Dun without his hat.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: Hun Dun choking Liuer and later smashing him with a boulder.
  • Fan Boy: Liuer is Sun Wukong's number one fan.
  • Futile Hand Reach: Sun Wukong tries to grab Liuer and fails, falling and leaving him to be crushed by the rocks.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Wukong has to resort to this due to his powers - including his Golden Cudgel - being locked away.
  • Hartman Hips: The female innkeeper in her human form only.
  • Held Gaze: Of the platonic kind. Wukong shares this with Liuer when they first meet inside the Five Finger Mountain. And again while Wukong scolds him for getting too close to the white dragon.
  • Hero Worship: Liuer has a serious case for Wukong. Slightly ironic because this takes place pre-Journey to the West, so Wukong is by all means, a villain. Though he does live up to the hero title at the end.
  • Heroic Second Wind: Driven by the guilt and grief of being unable to protect Liuer, Wukong finally manages to break free from his Power Limiter in the climax. In one of the most impressive parts of the film, he regains his costume as the Great Sage equal to heaven and pulls out the golden cudgel from his ear. Needless to say, Hun Dun didn't stand a chance.
  • Heroic Build: Erlang Shen has impressive musculature.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Liuer's mother jumps down a waterfall to save her son from the mountain monsters.
  • Hit Stop: Invoked in the opening when Erlang Shen pursues Wukong. Invoked again in the fake inn when Wukong kicks the female inkeeper in the face.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted at the climax where Liuer is crushed by boulders, however the end of the movie it gets played straight after Sun Wukong's power limiter is shattered he hears his voice and turns around with the happy expression before the film cuts to the credits. And then the first frame of the credits shows Liuer covered in bandages, showing that he only lost consciousness.
  • Insult of Endearment: Liuer calling the girl he carries "silly girl." Wukong calling Liuer "brat" and "fool."
  • I Was Quite the Looker: According to Pigsy, he was much handsomer as General Tien Peng. Wukong disagrees.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Wukong isn't the friendliest monkey, but he refrains from attacking Liuer in their first meeting, saves the boy from a giant fish, throws himself between Liuer and a maneating dragon, agrees (however reluctant) to be Liuer and Sha Ya Tou's bodyguard on their journey home, and shows genuine concern for the children.
  • Kill the Cutie: Liuer, it gets subverted however.
  • Knight In Sour Armor: Sun Wukong himself. In contrast with the cheerful trickster he usually is in adaptations, this monkey king is plagued with self-doubt and negativity. But despite having no desire to play hero, he still agrees to accompany Liuer on his journey home and repeatedly risks his life to save a group of children.
  • Licensed Game: A video game based on the film called Monkey King: Hero Is Back was developed by October Media and Sony Interactive Entertainment, and published by Oasis Games.
  • Manly Tears: Wukong sobs over Liuer's apparent death. As does the audience.
  • Meaningful Echo: Liuer asks Wukong if Buddha can hear him when he reads sutras. Liuer later says he wants to ask Buddha to return Wukong's powers because the latter told him Buddha could hear him read.
    • After Hun Dun's initial defeat, Wukong tells Liuer they'll leave together. When Liuer returns to help Wukong while Hun Dun is crushing him with a rock slab, Wukong scolds him for coming back, whereupon Liuer says, "you said we're leaving together!"
    • From the same scene, Wukong tells Liuer, "I'm the Great Sage equal to heaven. I never die," a callback to Liuer's father telling him the Great Sage can never die and Liuer's own "The Great Sage can never die!" during a shadow puppet show about the Monkey King's failure to invade heaven.
  • Mooks: All the nameless monsters.
  • Moses In The Bull Rushes: Fa Ming finds Liuer in a basket floating down a river. His name literally means "Child from where the river flows."
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Hun Dun indirectly helps Wukong overcome his Power Limiter after he seemingly kills Liuer.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: In this case, a beautifully animated traditional Chinese dragon, Bai Long Ma (White Dragon Horse).
  • One-Man Army: Granted, it is Sun Wukong.
  • Only One Name: The girl who travels in Liuer's backpack is only referred as "Sha Ya Tou" (silly Girl) and her name was never revealed
  • Papa Wolf: Fa Ming not only travels on his own to find a missing Liuer, he also strikes down Hun Dun's lackeys with his cane to save his ward.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Hun Dun's monster lackeys.
  • Pretty Boy: Nezha
  • Power Limiter: The remaining enchanted cuff on Wukong's right arm.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Wukong and Hun Dun respectively.
  • Skyward Scream: After Jiang Liuer is presumed to be dead by Sun Wukong., Sun Wukong lets out one.
  • Slapstick Knows No Gender: The female demon-lackey takes many hits for the sake of comedy.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Again, Hun Dun's lackeys.
  • Travel Montage: Happens while the main characters journey through the forest.
  • Total Eclipse of the Plot: During the first climax.
  • Toilet Humour: Pigsy, in particular, uses this trope.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: The innkeepers. They're actually Hundun's transformed lackeys and neither is "hot" in reality.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Wukong is a variant of this. His actual powers might have been sealed away, but he's still a stone monkey born from absorbing the universe's energies for years and was good enough to fight all of Heaven's armies to a standstill, and so he's really only "weak" in relation to the Big Bad. Still, monkey cleverness offsets much of that handicap. Enhanced mooks coming at you and you don't have your golden cudgel? Gran a bamboo pole and go to town. Big Bad can shoot lasers at you and you can't? Pelt his throwing arm to throw off his aim, then get up close and engage in Good Old Fisticuffs. And then he gets his powers back...
  • Would Hurt a Child: Hun Dun sacrifices young children to create an elixir and strangles Liuer until he's unconscious, and even buries him under boulders in his One-Winged Angel form.
  • Young Future Famous People: Jiang Liuer grows up to be Tripitaka/Tang Sanzang. Though technically speaking, Word of God says Liuer is Tripitaka's ninth life (and Tripitaka being the Golden Cicada's tenth life in Journey To The West canon).

Alternative Title(s): Journey To The West Hero Is Back

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