Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, narrates the birth of a magical monkey made of the five elements – metal, wood, fire, water, and earth. A stone egg hatched and out popped MONKEY. Dear MONKEY was a mischievous fellow; he ate Heaven’s longevity peaches, drank its Long Life Elixir and became immortal. He terrorized Heaven with incomparable Kung Fu until finally imprisoned by Lord Buddha under a mountain. There old MONKEY lay for centuries, resisting all attempts to tame his “monkey mind,” until finally set free by Xuanzhang, a Monk charged with going west to bring Buddhist Sutras home.
The Monk is reunited with his mother after Bandit Liu is captured and she is rescued. They embrace by the river where the Bandit had thrown his father’s body after killing him. His mother, kept as a sex slave, gave birth to him shortly after his father died. She tied him to a piece of driftwood, hoping he would float to safety. The Monk watches as the soldiers cut open the Bandit while he is still alive and his mother rips out his heart and liver. She squeezes them in her bloody hands and throws them into the river as an offering to her husband.
The Monk meditates in his room, agonizing over the brutal killing of Bandit Liu. He feels complicit in Liu’s death, a blood sin that will take eons to atone for. Guan Yin appears and tells him that he can atone by making the perilous journey west to find Buddha’s scriptures and bring them back to his people. He will meet three disciples along the way to help him.
The Monk is passing through a rocky mountain when he hears MONKEY singing. Drawn to the spot where MONKEY lies buried, he breaks Buddha’s mark that keeps the spot sealed and MONKEY bursts forth. Instead of accompanying the Monk on his journey, however, dear MONKEY skips on ahead, leaving the Monk far behind. MONKEY meets Guan Yin who tricks him into accepting a golden crown. When MONKEY strays, all the Monk has to do is to chant “OM MANI PADME OM.” MONKEY’s head is squeezed so tightly in a vice that he is forced to behave.
The pilgrims are ambushed by Zhu, a huge grotesque pig-like creature. When Zhu finds out that it’s the Monk he’s attacked, he lays down his arms. Zhu was a former high official with glutinous appetites, eating the countryside bare, bringing famine to the villagers and raping the women. One day, when asleep, he was castrated by the villagers. Since the loss of his manhood, he is frightened of everything, even his shadow. He joins the pilgrimage.
The pilgrims ford the River Woe when they are attacked by Sha, a sand monster. She lays down her arms when she realizes that the group is on a pilgrimage to find the Sutras. Sha has been killing and eating human beings for centuries. For each person she devours, a part of her body turns to sand. She is now completely made of sand and has lost every vestige of her humanity. Sha too joins the pilgrimage.
The pilgrims are captured by Terrorists. Their King offers MONKEY his Freedom – he will break the gold crown that keeps MONKEY subjugated if MONKEY will leave and let him eat the Monk’s holy flesh. MONKEY agrees. As the King approaches him to break the crown, MONKEY captures the King and frees the Monk.
The pilgrims take refuge in the home of a beautiful woman and her children. In the dead of night, the woman creeps into bed with Zhu. She tells him that if he will help her kill the Monk so she and her children can eat his holy flesh, Zhu can drink his blood which will restore his manhood. Zhu agrees. As the woman raises her knife to cut the Monk’s throat, Zhu turns it upon her and kills her. She changes into a tiger, her true form.
The pilgrims meet a couple on a pilgrimage of thanks for the birth of their son, Born-in-Prayer. That night, Shadows cast a sleeping spell on the group and steal the child. They gather to consume his newborn flesh, so pure and untainted by sin. Sha recognizes the Shadows as blood brothers and confronts them. She slices off her newly regenerated right hand (regrown when she stopped eating human flesh) and offers it to them in the child’s stead.
The pilgrims arrive at the Shrine of the Sutras. As they approach the altar, Mara the Demon King and his troops arrive and seize the Scriptures. Mara gives the Monk a choice: Give up his disciples to the demons or the Sutras will burn. As the Monk contemplates his dilemma, the disciples launch themselves at Mara against impossible odds. They are on the verge of defeat when Guan Yin arrives and saves them. Guan Yin awards the Monk the Sutras, Zhu his manhood and Sha her humanity. As for MONKEY, she gives him entre to Nirvana. But dear MONKEY rejects salvation to go back to his mountain to wreak havoc in Heaven.
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