Thursday, March 5, 2015

PETALS FAIRY DIGITAL STAMP

A new fairy stamp called 'Petals Fairy'! Did the illustration quicker than usual while watching some interesting dramas and since I felt inspired, I completed it without using a reference pic, think it came out okay! She is sitting so you can add anything you wish, a branch, rock, box or even a swing when you create your crafts. This 8" digital stamp or colouring page is available in my Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/listing/224112878/

Monday, March 2, 2015

LADY IN THE FOREST ACEO


Another new ACEO, meet "Lady in the Forest"! I know, super generic title. I'd rather call my artworks 'Untitled 1', 'Untitled 2'.... because I'm not good at coming up with names lol. The card is made with markers and pastels on acid-free cardstock paper. The pastels give it a soft shade which is nice. The border was inked in April last year but I couldn't decide what to add in the center till this nouveau-inspired girl came about. Hope you like it. It is available in my Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/listing/223593672/

Saturday, February 28, 2015

CABAZON DINOSAURS


A few photos from last year's summer when we were heading towards Cabazon / Desert Hills Outlet Mall, located at Riverside, California. Don't forget to stop by and check out the historical landmark dinosaurs if you have time, known as Claude Bell's giant dinosaur sculptures or what we call the Cabazon dinosaurs. Meet Dinny the Apatosaurus and Mr Rex. I heard from my bf the goldminer's restaurant beside the park was recently burnt down!

Before arriving there, we pass by a windmill farm. I get very excited over them because they look so surreal!


 Can't miss the T-rex off the Cabazon exit at the freeway I-10.

 There is a museum but we have never gone in.

The location was featured in "The Wizard" 1989 (that Super Mario Brother's promotion movie) and "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" 1985.

Super windy. Blew my cap and hair comb off a few times and then I gave up. Don't like the harsh sun but can't open an umbrella either. It's a quiet (bright) place, we were the only ones there when we took these photos, besides another family.

 Dinny has a gift store in his body. Sneaked a photo.



We took a detour back after Cabazon and it has nice scenery.


1980s before the casinos and outlet malls... the dinosaurs featured for 2 secs.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

ACEO - BLUE SUNDAY BEST


Finally came up with something coloured! Titled 'Blue Sunday Best', shoujo-styled, made with pen, markers and pastel, and then sprayed with fixative to keep the pastel on. She is already sold to a friend, just as I listed it. Thanks Kei!

This ACEO was sketched back in April 2014, while I was still in the US. Never got to complete her because I forgot about it and she got buried with my other prints. Also bought some new pastels lately and tried it out on this because the paper (Canson mixed media paper) has some tooth to hold the colour. I like the effect, the pastel colours are limited and a bit messy to use, but at least there is an additional source of colour in case I don't have the right shade of marker inks to do those graduating tones.

Monday, February 23, 2015

BAKERY LOVE DIGITAL STAMP

Here's a new lineart digital stamp continuing my cute dessert-theme titled "Bakery Love"! 6.5 inches 300dpi jpg format, this lineart is versatile for several occasions: Valentines, Birthdays, for baking enthusiasts, cupcake lovers and kawaii fans.

Instant download is available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/223084510/

I will be coming up with a new freebie stamp very soon!

Friday, February 20, 2015

GOODBYE FUMAN

To the 2 pitbulls or whatever vicious breed it is or irresponsible owner that let those dogs out and mauled Fuman to death, if I ever catch you, that will be the day. Can you imagine those dogs continuing to attack other pets or even worse, children?? And that a house pet is not even safe at his own home? Just as I thought this Chinese New Year got on ok with nothing bad happening yet THIS HAPPENED. I got a Skype call from my bf when he was supposed to be asleep around 3am California time (19th Feb Singapore time about 7pm) with news that he couldn't save Fuman in time and the two dogs ran off without a trace. One reason I watch Lunar New Year's Day with caution, no I'm not superstitious, but usually something bad happens.
I've known Fuman for about 10 years. The first time I met him was also when I first met my bf in California, and he didn't mind a stranger lodging in the house and said hello with a brush of his tail against my legs. I have always thought his personality is very cute! He is a large-sized tuxedo cat, not very good at grooming himself. Very friendly with humans but not so much with other cats if they are in his territory, although he strangely took in a stray black kitten a few weeks back, which we named Lupin. I call him Big Boss. Before another talkative cat (Pluto - also now gone) taught him to meow he was a mute. He still didn't like to use his vocals later on, and only meows with just a breathing sound or a very very soft shrill mew~ (once) to get your attention for food outside the bedroom door. His squeak doesn't match his physique at all.

He lets the neighbourhood kids pet him and I think some of his human friends feed and groom him too. He used to be an indoor cat but couldn't get along with our younger Kiwi, a female cat who came over from the neighbour's, so they swopped places in secret cat language and his favourite spot is on the bench at the veranda.
I took this photo last year in the kitchen in California, May 2014. The recent photos are taken by my bf obviously, because I'm not in the US. He was a bit ill then and got skinny (could be due to the summer heat) but recovered and gained back his weight. I thought he would be around for quite some time more.



This photo was taken in 2012 with my phone to put on Instagram. He stopped and posed for me without yawning or blinking for once.
This is an early pic of Fuman when he was younger as you can tell from his fluffy clean fur. He blinked because of my flash.

Actually I made a few posts on him since 2008.
http://blog.lemonshortbread.com/2008/03/cali-snapshots.html
http://blog.lemonshortbread.com/2008/05/let-sleeping-cats-lie.html
http://blog.lemonshortbread.com/2010/11/girl-pet-paintings.html

This is a painting based on him called "Suzy and Alistair". No, it is not for sale, it is a practise piece with acrylics and I accidentally sealed dust into the varnish.

Sorry folks to ruin your festivities if you were dropping by to read how I celebrated CNY. I usually make memorial posts for dead pets on the day itself (or a day after), maybe one day if I can bring myself to, I will eventually do one for my little Luna kitty who died in 2013.

Old video:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

DRAMA REVIEW: JOURNEY TO THE WEST 1986

I remembered the 80s was a great time for film & tv-making, whether it was movies or dramas from the Western or Eastern hemisphere, many productions were original, bold and now regarded as classics. The improved (and obsession over) special effects also unleashed a plethora of creative juices from writers and filmmakers. Since Chinese New Year is here, I might as well have a follow-up to my 'A Dream of Red Mansions' post with this humble show called 'Journey to the West' or ' Xi You Ji' 《西游记》, a 25-episode tv drama produced from 1982-1988 in China, directed by Yang Jie and starring Liu Xiao Ling Tong as the Monkey King Sun Wukong.

No doubt Xi You Ji is one of the most famous and popular Chinese literature ever written, being listed as one of the four 'Great Classical Novels', the other 3 being: Romance of 3 Kingdoms, The Water Margin, and A Dream of Red Mansions. Amongst the numerous stage, screen, animation, foreign, book adaptations and satire, this one stands out in most people's minds. Ask any Chinese if they have watched this version and you will likely get a yes. It was so big back then, viewership ratings averaged 89.4% when broadcast, and has been aired over 2,000-3,000 times since then. It enjoys high ratings even till today, I am guessing from people who are watching it for the nth time.

So besides the nostalgia alert and the Monkey King's kickassery (pun intended), let's see how this decades-old production still emerges superior to the numerous crappy remakes.
About the novel Journey to the West:
Published anonymously in 1592 and attributed to Wu Cheng En 《吴承恩》from the Ming Dynasty, this adventure-mythological-Buddhist-Taoist-themed story follows the Monkey King Sun Wukong during the Tang Dynasty and his accompaniment with Monk Tang Sanzang to India to retrieve Buddhist scriptures. Monk Tang takes in 3 other disciples: pig monster Zhu Bajie, river monster Sha Wujing and a white dragon later transformed into a white horse. The 5 of them go through many dangers, most of which involve demons wanting to eat Monk Tang for his flesh to attain immortality.
Production credits:
Director/producer: Yang Jie 杨洁
Cinematographer: Wang Zhongqiu 王崇秋
Assistant director: Xun Hao 荀皓 , Ren Fengpo 任凤坡
Screenplay: Dai Yinglu 戴英禄, Zou Yiqing 邹忆青, Yang Jie 杨洁
Character design: Wang Xizhong 王希钟
Main music composer: Xu Jingqing 许镜清

Lead Cast:

- Monkey Sun Wukong 孙悟空 : Liu Xiao Ling Tong 六小龄童
- Pigsy Zhu Bajie 猪八戒 : Ma Dehua 马德华
- Sha Wujing 沙悟净 : Yan Huaili 闫怀礼
- Monk Tang Sanzang 唐三藏 : Wang Yue 汪粤, Xu Shaohua 徐绍华, Chi Chongrui 迟重瑞

In 1981, CCTV (China Central Television) planned for a big-scale tv adaptation of the 4 Great Chinese Classics. 'A Dream of Red Mansions' and 'Journey to the West' were up first. A Dream of Red Mansions was handed to director Wang Fulin of the tv department (read about my blog post here) and the latter was handed to the Madam Yang Jie of the literature & arts department, whose specialisation was opera broadcasts. Both are absolute gems.
《除妖乌鸡国》1982.
In July 1982, the crew filmed a trial-screening episode of 《除妖乌鸡国》Chuyao Wujiquo or 'Removing demons from Wuji Country', to test audience reactions and for the production team to have a feel for this new method of tv drama production (remember the Cultural Revolution only ended a few years before in 1976). Released in October, reviews were mostly positive. This story was later re-shot in 1986 and included as episode 13. You can catch glimpses of the earlier 1982 version spliced with 1986-shot footage in there. Since it was an experimental phase, the makeup and clothing were vastly different from the main series, and special effects were kept to a minimum. The crude animal-like features of Sun Wukong and Zhu Bajie matched closer to the novel's.
《三打白骨精》aka 'Thrice Subduing the White Bone Spirit'
After the initial broadcast, the project was budgeted at 3 million yuan for 30 episodes. In 1983, the crew completed episodes《祸起观音院》Huoqi Guanyinyuan,《偷吃人参果》Touchi Renshenguo, and《三打白骨精》Sanda Baigujing.

In 1984, they broadcasted《计收猪八戒》Jishou Zhubajie and 《三打白骨精》Sanda Baigujing which proved popular. 11 episodes were completed by 1985, and the station aired them in proper sequence in 1986 (Lunar New Year). I recall watching a few of these one-off episodes during the public holidays in Singapore when I was little, before the main series. The show had a hiatus while they continued to film the other episodes.
In 1986, they finished 9 episodes. While shooting 《大战红孩儿》Dazhan Honghaier, the team ran out of money and CCTV refused to inject any more funds. They were ordered to stop and let it end there despite the overwhelming popularity of the show. Undeterred, director managed to persuade CCTV to let her find financial backers for the remaining episodes. The team scrambled to find corporate entities that could come up with the money but were unsuccessful until assistant supervisor Li Hongchang 李鸿昌 (also the centipede spirit) managed to secure a loan with the China Railway 11th Bureau Group (中铁十一局) for 3 million yuan.
In 1987, they completed 5 more episodes and yet again ran out of money as inflation costs had dwindled the budget. Free locations that were scouted before filming were now tourist areas. One thing to note was the crew still maintained the same low wages. Director was forced to scrap 5 episodes from the original 30-episode script, to the current 25 episodes. In total, the crew took 6 years to finish the series from 1982-1988.

The scrapped stories are:《险渡通天河》Xiandu Tongtianhe (the one about the tortoise incident mentioned in the last episode),《真假美猴王》Zhenjia Meihouwang,《遇阻狮驼岭》Yuzhu Shituoling,《救难小儿城》Jiunan Xiaoercheng, and《收伏青牛怪》Shoufu Qingniuguai.

Journey to the West sequel (2000)
In 1998, director and some of the cast reunited for an additional 16 episodes, with intention of completing the 5 missing stories. It is simply called 《西游记续集》Journey to the West sequel, released in 2000. Technically it was not a sequel but a continuation, as the original show was never considered completed by the director. Mdm Yang Jie pushed for these episodes to be produced for many years with no success due to a lack of financial backers and permission from the TV station. That was a pity as they had lost quite a bit of flavour, many of the original crew and youthful energy over the 10-year wait. The screenplay was rewritten to include whatever else they could find in the novel to pad the show into 16 episodes. This affected its quality, because the pacing was much slower and repetitive and I don't like the additional love subplots, amongst other factors. I thought the makeup on the monkey king was unnatural and the choreography not playful enough compared to the earlier series. There is a glimmer of hope like ep. 13 where there are some interesting moments but just not enough to save it.

Lead Cast (2000):
- Monkey Sun Wukong 孙悟空 - Liu Xiao Ling Tong 六小龄童
- Monk Tang Sanzang 唐三藏 - Xu Shaohua 徐绍华, Chi Chongrui 迟重瑞
- Pigsy Zhu Bajie 猪八戒 - Cui Jingfu 崔景富
- Sha Wujing 沙悟净 - Liu Dagang 刘大刚

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Back to the 1980s review:
The drama adaptation does not follow the novel to a T, but the essence is there, and the compelling well-paced storytelling as well as character development. I did not read the book, but my father had mentioned it was darker and bleaker, and the characters were more flawed. The victims do not always get away 'celibate' like how the drama saves them in time. You can call it white-washing if you want. The show emphasises on the adventures and less on the buddhist aspect.

I particularly enjoyed the dialogue (in chinese) - funny, witty and concise. The voice acting is great. Also there's quite some chemistry going on with the actors, I like it when the monkey bullies the pig. Another positive aspect is the soundtrack, and I'm not talking only about the theme song which is some people's karaoke staple. Even the minor tunes enhances the scenes and sound relevant today. Electronica with traditional pipa, zithers, chimes and violins. I don't know how composer Xu Jingqing thought merging those instruments would work but it did. The director was very bold to use him as there were other more prolific composers (he was 8th in line) whom she skipped.
You get adventure, comedy, kickass acrobats, cool stunts, very beautiful scenery, very beautiful ladies, good voice acting, mythological creatures being brought to life, creative use of special effects within a limited budget all rolled in a weekly episode of movie-format eyecandy... for free! The props, graphics and editing appear primitive now but the quality is not lacking in other parts. I also like their liberal use of fog and poufs of smoke!
The acting is of course, superb. Liu Xiao Ling Tong is a delight to watch. He's so good like... dammit this Liu Xiao Ling Tong... His Sun Wukong portrayal is true to life, endearing and very expressive, and so synonymous with him their names are interchangeable, he is also a cultural icon. From mischief to rage to hopelessness to child-likeness, they are all in his 'fiery golden eyes' or《火眼金睛》Huoyanjinjing. His huoyanjinjing is the life of the show, and due to the good lighting and makeup, they really do shine, even in blurry vhs quality. Actually in episode 1 to 3 before he got his huoyanjinjing, his eyes were already lively. For the earlier filmed episodes like episodes 6 and 9, not so much as they were still trying to improve on it.
Thanks to careful details and natural performances, and the director's emphasis on aesthetics, he totally deserved the title of 'Beautiful Monkey King' or Meihouwang《美猴王》because Sun Wukong really evolved into something quite photogenic. In the earlier filmed episodes he looked primate-like in brown macaque mode, but I still enjoyed the performance. The prettiness later on is a bonus. I found it strange that characters in the show would run away when they saw him. Some people don't like him looking this cute as the novel clearly states he is one ugly creature - what they call 毛脸雷公嘴 'hairy-faced thunder-god mouth' looking.
One highlight of the show is obviously the monkey wushu. The main reason for me to watch this back then was the acrobatic fight scenes lol. Something for everyone eh? Wukong prefers to fight like a cat-and-mouse game being the trickster hero, but the acrobatics when it finally appears does not disappoint. You can use stand-ins for normal kungfu shows but for the monkey king, the actor must maintain monkey-ness in difficult stunts (a very specialised art) and ordinary wushu experts can't do it as fluidly. He's got some crazy jumping skills and streamlined monkey flexibility. I imagine it would be very hard on the body (and knees) to do all those stunts. If you want to watch how a monkey does elegant, just watch him lol.

This drama is one of the few that I watched together with my late father, besides other chinese classics and oh, stuff like Knightrider & Murder She Wrote lol (sorry for the weird combination in this post). Usually we just separate our tvs because he didn't like local Singapore chinese drama for some reason and I watched a good deal of those in the 80s lol. He would explain some parts I didn't understand - which was nice, but also spoilers! Like I would be soooo worried for Wukong in the oven scene and he'll go: Aiyah he won't die one later he get crushed under the mountain....
Anyhow, the first time I saw episode one (it was 1987 or 1988?) I wondered, wow is this guy for real? I have never seen Sun Wukong translated into live action form, only in animation. Besides the older filmed singly-aired episodes when he was a brown monkey and not as appealing, suddenly he looked friendly! How can someone behave so much like a monkey, perform his own stunts, and look that good in fur at the same time? Where did they get this guy from?? And what's up with his name?! And I just knew ALL waterfalls had to have a secret cave behind! I might have clapped. Can't remember. Will get to that later.
Ma Dehua is really fun, he has the clumsy movements down pat, when he fights he's pretty agile for a pig lol. I get a kick out of watching him battle. Actually his personality is kind of lovable and not annoying. As mentioned earlier, he has chemistry with the monkey and the writers improved his personality, rather than indulging in smear campaigns against Wukong all the time. He is also very expressive despite that huge mask. It's no wonder he is used in so many roles.

When I was young, my favourite character was Sha Wujing. Just straightforward hardworking and loyal, playing mediator and not as stupid as Pigsy. And since there were 3 Monk Tang, I think my favourite out of them would be Xu Shaohua. He is very good looking, has the fair complexion and fragile appearance (what you call 白白嫩嫩). His features would tempt those monsters to eat or flirt with him.
I also like the costume design; the fairies, villains or humans are all quite pleasant to look at, especially Wukong's outfits. He is such a vainpot. Although a few may be a tad fancy for a monk, such as that red short-sleeved one with leopard fur hems and frills, but they do look very nice. The Dasheng outfit is also elaborate and grand, matches his arrogance and flamboyance. He might as well put his good physique to use. I wonder if that's the reason why Wujing has to carry so much baggage - all Wukong's fancy dresses, hats, shoes, animal fur skirts and wrist cuffs! Or maybe he just used magic. Comparing to the 1982 trial episode with the horrendous Tarzan-looking dowdy t-shirt combo (that peach pink!), they have come a long way.

The costumes in the sequel wasn't as nice or fitted. The only thing I liked was they brought back Wukong's simple black tassel cord belt, which really caught my eye in the original series. They cut out his cute tiger-skin wrist cuffs, the classic tiger-skin skirt and elaborate trimmings on the neckline which was a pity. Even the hats in the original series were better made!
The director incorporated her opera experience and elegance from the performing arts foundation of her talents into something sublime, fits just right for an old mythological literature like Journey to the West. I don't buy modern day slang and behaviour seeping into period drama!

As for flaws, sometimes the endings are a little abrupt due to a lack of time. The version I watched is 50 mins to over an hour long. No such thing nowadays. Also the paper-like graphics (eg. White Bone Spirit episode) and human-in-costume props are laughable, but most of these were the only choices they had. The bad graphics was due to the missing 3-D software they needed to turn the 2-D effects into dimension. Apparently the tv station did not want to spend on this software... money problems keep plaguing the project. Can you blame them for all those red tape they had no control over? I believe the director was unhappy with the outcome but it had to be presented, flawed or not.
I was a little bugged by how the white horse was practically useless except for maybe 3 instances. Animal is a bit reluctant sometimes like it didn't want to be there lol. I was actually worried for the poor thing because of the terrain it had to travel on, and they used one in the scorching hot desert too. But it's real enough.

And the golden bands on their heads, they kept swopping materials and looked jarring when it's made of foil. Of course, the best headbands are the metal ones. However any of those (even the foil ones) in this version are better than the ones in the sequel since it is still a band + hat over band (overlaps and realistic), the sequel was when they got real lazy and just glued a gold band onto the hat and the chin strap sticks UNDER the band, which doesn't make any sense. Wukong can't remove the band so he can't have a hat strap under it. Oh well.

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Making of Xi You Ji/ Journey to the West:

- Xi You Ji is China's first large-scale tv drama made, along with Dream of Red Mansions. One reason for the project to commence was because Japan had already made their own version, and China had not. The station tasked the director... just make it better than Japan's!
- Director Mdm Yang Jie is a warrior woman. There were opposing views on how she should film the series but she stuck to her guns. Everything had to look pleasing, even the villains, and the genuine atmosphere of the arduous travel. She became the producer after conflicts with her producing supervisor, who did not understand what she was doing and felt she should cut costs and work faster. Actually the team was working non-stop at a hectic pace. She was involved in budgeting, finances, scouting, scripts, editing, casting, etc.
- Throughout the series, they only used ONE camera. Cinematographer Wang Zhongqiu and the director are spouses. It broke down often, and they were the old-fashioned types with separate recording equipment and had to be manually carried. They could not do concurrent scenes so they were shot individually, which is the main reason why it took 6 years and some cuts appear choppy. It did not come with zoom lenses, they had to submit an application to CCTV everytime they needed it, and it was limited to 3 days at a time. Special effects were done in the tv station in Beijing so they had to make sure they had all necessary footage required before returning as pick-ups were not convenient to do.

- Because of the lack of modern equipment, the poor cinematographer had to get himself in the most awkward positions to get the perfect shot. It was primitive, makeshift and almost pathetic but kudos to him for the results. You'll see him dangling over a plank or suspended over a ladder or lying on the ground with the actors jumping over him. In one scene that wasn't used, they were planning an aerial view taken from a plane, so Mr. Wang had his assistants hold his legs while he filmed outside the plane door.
- Actors and actresses were scouted from opera, stage, film and dance performance troupes, some were established actors, most were stage/opera performers, some were students. Back then, they had to get approval from individual troupes to borrow their talents.

- Two people voiced Sun Wukong: Li Shi Hong 李世宏 (ep 1-5) and Li Yang 李杨.
- The team traveled 19 provinces all over China and then Thailand to film the perfect scenery. The initial scout by the director was 26 places I think. They were accused of misusing funds by using the location shoots as excuses for vacations. CCTV installed 3 personnel to monitor the crew, who promptly changed their minds as the team was relentlessly shooting in undesirable conditions, and the personnel suffered along with them. They agreed to request for more funds and a new camera from the station, but the new camera came about only during the year-end of 1987 when they were almost done with filming.
- Some locations were especially hard to get to, dangerous to film in, or did not have modern amenities. Logistics-wise this was not efficient or comfortable, but the director wanted the show to be presented as authentic as possible, rather than relying on studio sets. The team sometimes camped outdoors and lodged in poor conditions as these places were undeveloped. It was said one place was infested with rats and they had to take turns beating the rats as they were running over them while they were sleeping.
- The highest paid was director Yang Jie, Liu Xiao Ling Tong and Ma Dehua; their wages were about 70 yuan (about US$11.20) per episode. Each episode would take 3-4 months to complete.
- The production spent the majority of the budget on art and operations, and probably the least on wages. 30 cents were allocated for dinner. Some local officials offered free meals and lodging. In expensive places like Guangzhou, they were so broke they didn't get enough to eat so the director would pay out of her pocket to feed them.
- The main cast, supporting cast, and production crew were treated as equals. All had to help carry equipment to locations and pack them up after the shoot. If they needed extras, the production crew stepped in! Cast performed multiple roles (very fun to spot them out). The most number of roles went to Ma Dehua (Bajie) and Xiang Han 项汉 (Black Bear Spirit/Gao Cai). Lin Zhiqian 林志谦(Erlang Shen 二郎神) and Xiang Han also choreographed some fight scenes.
 - There were low safety standards and no insurance. The wires used for flying scenes were thin metal wires and broke often, hurting whoever was flying. Also their technique was not safe as it consisted of one loop suspending the harness around the waist or hip. Prior to this, they had no experience of wirework, so director and cinematographer went to Hong Kong to observe how wuxia drama did flying scenes and figured it out themselves.
- The crew used cardboard cartons when there were not enough cushions. If both were not enough, they spaced it out so one might end up on the hard ground anyway.
- Being action intensive and with low safety assurance, injuries were common. One incident occurred when Liu Xiao Ling Tong fell 5 meters after the wire broke during a flying scene. Xiang Han (then playing the monkey general) saved his life by diverting his body before impact. Although he was knocked unconscious by the event, he survived a potentially fatal disaster with just shattered bones. Another incident was when he slipped over a cliff and tumbled into a ravine and only stopped because his foot caught a vine. Yan Huaili (Sha Wujing) once fell onto cinematographer Wang Chong Qiu's head after his wire broke.

- Since they couldn't cg fire, they set real fire onto Liu Xiao Ling Tong and Ma Dehua in Dazhan Honghaier and to the former in Sanjie Bajiaoshan. Side effects included fizzled eyelashes, suffocation and melted prosthetics.
- The prosthetics were painful to put on and the material was not breathable. The glue stung when in contact with the skin, combined with perspiration from physical exertion, it would slip off and had to be reapplied. Using alcohol to remove the glue and peeling off the mask was like a harsh chemical exfoliation every time. Wukong and Bajie dreaded it so much they would make the other party do their makeup first. They were not able to eat or drink normally with the masks on and would rather stay hungry and finish all their scenes first before meals, than go through the pain of removing and reapplying the mask.
- Our sharp-eyed Wukong has myopia, he is about 600 degrees near-sighted with a 200-degree astigmatism. Initially it was kept a secret because the director would have chosen someone else. When he kept hitting his opponents unintentionally during fight scenes, the director wanted a stand-in thinking it was due to his faulty technical skills. But he was fine when performing solo, only then he admitted he couldn't see very well. His fellow actors learned to duck very quickly.
- To exercise the piercing appearance of his eyes, he stared at sunrises and sunsets, lighted incense sticks and moving ping pong balls. Good lighting and improved make-up also helped the effect immensely. Thus was born his signature 'fiery golden eyes' or 'Huoyanjinjing'《火眼金睛》, a vast improvement from the 1982 trial episode when his eyes appeared blank and not in focus. By the sequel in 1998, his eyesight was fixed through lasik.

- Liu Xiao Ling Tong was allowed to keep a pet macaque for 6 years on set, which inspired and taught him to imitate a monkey as close as possible. Before that he grew up with monkeys at home.

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About the Main Cast:
Photos credit to Tang Jiquan.

- Liu Xiao Ling Tong 六小龄童 (real name Zhang Jinlai 章金莱) comes from generations of monkey opera performers: from his great grandfather Huohouzhang《活猴章》, grandfather Saihuohou《塞活猴》, and his father Liu Ling Tong 《六龄童》(real name Zhang Zongyi 章宗义). Liu Ling Tong is also known as the legendary Southern Monkey King《南猴王》based in Zhejiang Shaoxing Opera. His stage name means six-year-old child because he started learning the art at 6. He added a xiao (little or junior) word to his sons' stage names. Liu Xiao Ling Tong's elder brother, Xiao Liu Ling Tong 小六龄童 had the natural flair for performing monkey since he was 3, and was set to continue his father's legacy. Sadly he passed away aged 16 from leukemia. Liu Xiao Ling Tong was not interested in performing and introverted, preferring to read books. He took over the reins after Xiao Liu Ling Tong entrusted the role of Sun Wukong to him just before he passed away.
Liu Ling Tong (right) & Liu Xiao Ling Tong
- He studied under his father's teacher from the Shanghai Theatre Academy, Mr. Xue Dechun 薛德春. As Liu Ling Tong was blacklisted during the cultural revolution, and it was illegal to teach a family member of a blacklisted artist, Liu Xiao Ling Tong trained under cover of darkness in secret before school. He enrolled as a student under the Zhejiang Kun Opera troupe specialising in wusheng 武生 (combat acrobatic actor) in 1978. In 1981, just as his troupe was preparing to produce a series of Monkey King Kun Opera after a successful run of "Sun Wukong Sanjie Bajiaoshan" 《孙悟空三借芭蕉扇》, his father received a call from Mdm Yang Jie looking to cast Sun Wukong.
Monkey Opera by Liu Xiao Ling Tong
- She initially sought out the Northern Monkey King 《北猴王》 but had disagreements on painted faces on the show. After a futile search, she recalled the Southern Monkey King whom she had a deep impression with his opera movie 《孙悟空三打白骨精》"Sun Wukong Sanda Baigujing". She met up with him in Shaoxing after he said she can pick out someone from his school. Asking for Xiao Liu Ling Tong after seeing his photo on the wall, Liu Ling Tong told her he had passed away in 1966. He then insisted she must try out his youngest son (aged 23). Her first impression was he appeared delicate, quiet and bookish, and didn't fit the personality of exuberant Sun Wukong. Liu Ling Tong didn't show her his other students as promised but was adamant his son was the perfect candidate and would train him up. She was too polite to reject his offer. He also recommended his nephew, Qi Xiao Ling Tong 七小龄童 as Zhu Bajie. They went to Beijing together several weeks later to audition in front of a panel of decision makers and Liu Xiao Ling Tong received the role.
- The director ordered him to learn independence as he had very limited life skills. His father made three rules for him to observe: 1. Do not miss home. 2. Work in harmony. 3. No romance. He broke the 3rd one by falling in love with crew member Yu Hong 于虹. She also appears in the series as an Indian queen. Their romance was kept secret for years because it was banned, so the director and crew never knew, although Ma Dehua did. They married in 1988 on the night Liu Xiao Ling Tong received Best Actor at the Golden Eagle Awards.
- For the role of Zhu Bajie, the director decided to look at actors doing 'chou jue' 丑角 or 'clown role' in opera and found Ma Dehua (aged 37) from the Beijing Kun Opera troupe. He had to put on weight for the role. Initially he had reservations over playing a pig, as he is surprisingly, a muslim Hui minority. He plays the most number of roles in the series and you can spot him in every episode, just look out for his trademark dimples. He even plays one of the monkeys.

- Yan Huaili  (aged 46), a drama actor, was discovered by production assistant/actor Li Chengru 李成儒. He saw Yan Huaili at the Beijing People's Art Theatre practising on the parallel bars. Li Chengru dragged him to a screentest thinking he would be suitable for something in Journey to the West, but he wasn't fierce-looking enough to be a monster. Director heard him speak as he wanted to leave and thought his voice was exactly as she imagined for Monk Sha Wujing. He dubs his own character in the show. He passed away on 12 April 2009 (also Liu Xiao Ling Tong's birthday) from lung infection complications, due to declining health from pulmonary fibrosis caused by accidental exposure to toxic insecticide.

- The first Monk Tang, Wang Yue (aged 27), was selected by the director when she saw his yearbook photo at the Beijing Film Academy. He was the 2nd member of the cast to be confirmed. To understand and get a feel for his role, he shaved his head and stayed in a monastery. He also redesigned and painted the images on Monk Tang's hat. He left after 4 episodes to pursue film commitments at the advice of his teachers.
- The 2nd Monk Tang, Xu Shaohua (aged 24), was spotted by the director in a movie and auditioned for the role of the white dragon. Wang Yue had just left and the director thought he was more suitable as Monk Tang, though he needed to gain weight. He left the series to pursue a university degree despite being requested by everyone to stay. He stayed on the team for about 2.5 years and is probably the most popular Monk Tang because of his looks.
- After Xu Shaohua announced his departure, the director stressed over his replacement. Along a dark staircase at the tv station, she walked past radio actor Chi Chongrui (aged 30), as he was collecting his salary. She yelled for him to stop. Caught by surprise at her sudden outburst, he thought she had mistaken him for a thief. He agreed promptly when asked if he would take the role. His first appearance was the well dragon, this was a test of his endurance level because the prosthetic was very uncomfortable.

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On a Side Note:
If you'd like more of the original cast, there is《吴承恩与西游记》"Wu Cheng En and Journey to the West" from 2010. This almost-schizophrenic drama tells of how the author completed his novel amidst a villain out to foil his book and kill him. You need 3D glasses to watch this because all the Monkey King segments are in 3D. They include chunks from the 1980s version and the 2000 sequel, with a few new sequences but nothing extra just a very brief outline. It is mostly about Wu Cheng En (played by Liu Xiao Ling Tong) and his 2 wives. I like one of the brown pretty variation of the monkey, unfortunately this one doesn't turn up often, instead they seem to feature the ugly brown monkey more. The one I like was when he was under the mountain, that scene resembled the original version. Sun Wukong doesn't look like a 50 year old, the golden monkey version is better than the 2000 sequel in my opinion.


What a long post, I'll just end here. May do a part II if I'm up for typing, I got to revisit my Water Margin and Romance of Three Kingdom dvds! Check out some related videos:

Liu Xiao Ling Tong's solo segment from 1987 Xi You Ji New Year special called 'Qi Tian Le'《齐天乐》. Qi Tian Le in its entirety can be found on Youtube. It involved the cast and crew and was made to update audiences while they were filming the rest of the episodes later released in 1988.

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1988 New Year segment featuring Bajie's ballet routine and Wukong's cudgel performance.



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1992 (Year of the Monkey) New Year segment featuring Liu Xiao Ling Tong & Liu Ling Tong:


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2004 (Year of the Monkey) Lunar New Year special featuring Liu Xiao Ling Tong:


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This year is the Goat or Sheep Year, I think monkey is next year. We will see if that Xi You Ji movie they were talking about with Hollywood will come to fruition. But anyhow I am going to enjoy my bbq pork slices and pineapple tarts lol. Here's wishing all a blessed Lunar New Year!
祝 新年平安,万事如意!