THE wait for Stephen Chow's Journey to the West is finally over. He's been talking about it since his last film, 2008's CJ7; and originally planned for it to be a remake of his 1994 classic A Chinese Odyssey, where he played the Monkey God.
Then all of a sudden, Chow decided not to cast himself and moved behind the camera instead to write and direct.
The good news is that even without him starring in it, Journey to the West still feels distinctly like his work because it's got Chow's signature "mo lei tau" (Cantonese for "nonsensical") humour stamped all over it.
Not only that, Mainland Chinese actor Wen Zhang even manages a spot-on impression of Chow, playing the typical underdog character the latter often casts himself as.
Despite the title of the film, Journey to the West isn't exactly based on the classic Chinese novel of the same name.
In fact, the Monkey God (Huang Bo, who's made up to not only look like Gollum but also acts like the Lord of the Rings character) doesn't even appear until the last half hour and there's almost no mention of the other famous characters like Pigsy and Sandy.
Instead, it's a prequel with Wen playing Xuan Zhang, a novice monk who would eventually gain enlightenment to famously become Tripitaka in the novel.
He's just starting to earn his stripes as a demon hunter here; and while his peers, like Duan (Shu Qi) fight with fancy weapons, all Xuan has is a book of nursery rhymes. Needless to say, it leaves him feeling inadequate initially during battles but he soon realises the pen is indeed mightier than the sword as he eventually learns to harness the power of the words he holds in his hands during his final showdown with the Monkey God.
Despite it being a zany laugh-a-minute affair, there's also an underlying religious theme in the plot about why good people are forced to commit evil because of the unfortunate circumstances they find themselves in.
That gives way to a heart-warming coda where the origins of Tripitaka's disciples are revealed and explained from earlier plot points.
Fans of Chow's most popular films like 2001's Shaolin Soccer and 2004's Kung Fu Hustle won't be disappointed with Journey to the West because it's very similar with the mix of slapstick humour and martial arts.
The CGI can be a little over-the-top at times but that can be easily overlooked because it's the humour that takes centre stage and Chow sustains it throughout the film, making this an entertaining romp from start to end.
Most Lunar New Year releases tend to be rushed works made to cash in on the lucrative cinema-going season during the holidays. Journey to the West is a little too good to be considered as that even though it's coming out in cinemas the same time as the other festive films.
Even if Chow is not exactly Hong Kong's most prolific filmmaker, he always knows how to make the wait worth it.