Main cast: Thomas Gibson (Nicholas Orton), Bai Ling (Kwan Ying), Russell Wong (The Monkey King), Ric Young (Confucius), Kabir Bedi (Friar Sand), Eddie Marsan (Pigsy), Randall Duk Kim (Emperor Shu), Henry O (Wu Chan Yen), Lim Kay Sui (Subodhi), Burt Kwouk (Professor Sheng), James Faulkner (Marcus Harding), and Yung Sai-Kit (The Jade Emperor)
Director: Peter MacDonald
Imagine being stuck with nothing to watch on cable other than The Lost Empire, a two-episode TV special inflicted on all by NBC and the channel known at that time as the Sci-fi Channel. This bizarre, schizophrenic take on Journey to the West (you know, the Monkey King story) is something that could be done in 2001 – if made today, everyone involved would be lynched by the political correctness mob today for:
- Equating the book Journey to the West to the Bible, Quran, and other religious texts,
- Having a white man save China and the rest of the world, and other key Chinese characters played by Americans,
- Having all the key characters speak in English, but characters in the background speak Cantonese – suggesting that English is the more important language,
- Having the goddess Kwan Ying using her divine charms to seduce the white man, Nicholas Orton, into doing her bidding, as if that’s all a female can do despite all the powers she has, and
- All kinds of embarrassing badness involving characters of Chinese ethnicity.
I have no issues with any of the above, except the third point: it is ridiculous that a goddess has to stoop so low as to pull what is basically “No obey, no honey!” stunt on Nicholas. It’s just that, my god, everything about this show is just terrible.
The plot is embarrassing. The Journey to the West book, being one of the most important books in the world, has apparently contributed to the betterment of society throughout the years. Emperor Shu hated the fact that he couldn’t destroy the book, so he and his followers became demons in order to plot its destruction. Really. So, into the scene comes Nicholas, an American expatriate in China, and he is attracted by a mysterious woman who turns out to be Kwan Ying. She needs his help because, apparently, Shu has succeeded in kick starting his plot and now all progress made by civilization in the last 500 years will vanish until Nicholas steers his way into some portal-thingy in Shu’s tomb (apparently only he could do it because he wrote a paper on the tomb… or something) and meet up with the usual gang of Monkey King and such to do his own Journey to the West thing.
The special effects are so terrible here, but that’s not too bad if there is some campy charm to the whole thing. But there isn’t any charm of any sort here at all. The story develops like a theme park trip – it’s just action scene after another as the gang encounter one danger or mission after another. The fight scenes are embarrassingly bad, as if the folks involved in those scenes only read the script ten minutes prior and the choreographer had a bad hangover, so they had to just wing it. The green screen moments are so obvious, they may as well have a green screen placed in those scenes.
Worse, the acting is all around wooden and awful despite the presence of some pretty good actors among the cast. Perhaps it is the script; these people likely became so embarrassed as filming progressed that they ended up just saying their lines as quickly and flatly as possible so that they could quickly leave and get drunk. Thomas Gibson can’t pull off that roguish hero thing at all – he can’t muster up the charm or the charisma to mask the fact that his lines are so unbelievably bad. Russell Wong’s Monkey King is almost humor-free and boring, and the rest of the cast sort of just hang around, adding to the whole pointlessness of this show with their non-presence and non-acting. Oh, and who cares about saving the world? Nicholas is a whiny dead weight for the most part, but in the end he is praised as awesome in a “White boy does something basic – let’s give him a participation medal!” way that makes me feel so embarrassed for that character.
And the lines! They are all so cheesy and terrible that watching this show is like following some aging geezer’s tragic attempts to sound all current and hip.
The Lost Empire should stay lost for good.