When I wanted to write this new review, I could not really find a suitable recent score to write about. There are, of course, some real gems out there that I have not discovered yet, but instead of hunting for those, this time to have a look at one of the treasures from my personal collection, which is not very recent, but it is absolutely worth mentioning. This time I want to have a closer look at one of my favorite scores of the last decade: The Monkey King by Christopher Young.
I was already listening to the music before I even knew what the movie was, and I only saw the film about a year ago for the first time. It’s a Chinese fantasy movie, containing beautifully clothed characters equipped with special powers, using a fighting style that resembles more like dancing and flying. The story revolves around a conflict between two powerful beings over who should rule the heavens: The current ruler, The Jade Emperor, versus the Bull Demon King. Dragged into the fight is the clueless, but extremely powerful, Monkey King, who is trying to figure out on which side he belongs. Christopher Young, an American composer with a long career of scoring Hollywood movies, is not a composer I would expect to write the music for this kind of movie, but what he has created is absolutely magnificent.
The tracks on the album are not what you would normally see on a soundtrack album. Instead of many short tracks, which are quite often presented in chronological order according to their appearance in the movie, the album contains suites for each of the main characters.
First, I want to dive into the tracks that represent the women in the movie. “Tieshan Gongzhu, The Princess Iron Fan” is a wonderful tranquil cue with mostly Asian instruments. “Ruxue, The Silver Fox” is a playful piece with elegant melodies on Asian instruments, performed over a solid foundation by the orchestra. For “Guan Yin, The Goddess Of Mercy” Young has written a gorgeous lullaby performed by a child. Each of these tracks shows soft emotions: love and gentleness. At the same time, some of them are also quite powerful, and that is definitely true for the woman featured in “Nüwa, The Goddess Of Works.” This track is a superb orchestral piece, with a beautiful blend of strong powerful melody lines, worthy of the goddess who is able to create the heavens, but it also contains some gentleness, which is highlighted by a female choir.
Let’s now have a closer look at the three tracks representing the three colorful beings from the front cover of the album. The first track “Yu Huang Da Di, The Jade Emperor” is an excellent track representing the ruler of the heavens, with a strong foundation of percussion supported by the orchestra playing the same rhythm. On top of this, you can hear wonderful, majestic melody lines. What I also love about this track is that it does not really sound ‘heavenly’ to me. The music reflects the emperor as a powerful and mighty warrior.
His adversary is represented by the longest track on the album in “Niu Mo Wang, The Bull Demon King.” Just as in most other tracks, the music is orchestral, with support from a choir, but it also has a rock element to it with guitars and drums. As with the emperor track, the music contains many powerful moments, as well as beautiful and emotional melodies, telling the listener that underneath the warrior there is also a person, with touching problems and motivations, which give him the drive to try to defeat the emperor.
The last track that I would like to mention is “Sun Wukong, The Monkey King,” and it presents the music for the main character. As with the suites for the emperor and the demon bull, it is an intense-sounding orchestral piece. The introduction is a beautiful orchestral piece, in which the main focus lies on a solo by the French horn. Afterwards, it transitions into a cue, in which the main melody contains long lines played by an Asian string instrument, supported by the orchestra, choir and drums. In the middle, the music transforms into an emotional part, with a solo by the same Asian instrument, before the suite is concluded by the two cues from the beginning. This track portrays this extremely powerful entity very well, who is able to carry the weight of two mountains and can travel at the speed of a meteor.
When I listen to all the suites, I can clearly hear these magnificent godlike beings reflected in the music, without watching the movie. This is perfect film music for me, because it supports the scenes very well, by enhancing the features of these characters, while it is also a wonderful listening experience without the images. It is also marvelous that Christopher Young transformed the music from the movie into stand-alone suites. It makes the whole score a delight to listen to, but also makes each separate track a complete package that can be performed in a concert hall. The only negative thing about the perfect score for The Monkey King is, unfortunately, quite a big one. Sadly for the film music fans, the CD was only available for a limited time, and the music cannot be found on digital streaming platforms. Luckily, I found a second-hand CD for only 25 euros, which is a very decent price for this magnificent score, worthy of being in my top 20 of the last decade.
Listen or buy
- Buy this soundtrack second-handed from Amazon.com or Discogs
- Request a track of this soundtrack on StreamingSoundtracks.com
The highlights are in bold.
- Yu Huang Da Di, The Jade Emperor (7:14)
- Tieshan Gongzhu, The Princess Iron Fan (3:23)
- Ao Kuang, The Dragon King Of The East Sea (9:50)
- Nüwa, The Goddess Of Works (7:58)
- Ruxue, The Silver Fox (5:41)
- Erlang Shen, The Three-Eyed Warrior (3:15)
- Guan Yin, The Goddess Of Mercy (3:25)
- Subhūti, The Old Master (2:32)
- Niu Mo Wang, The Bull Demon King (16:53)
- Sun Wukong, The Monkey King (8:40)
- Just Dreams (4:35)
Total length: 1 hour and 13 minutes