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 re-adaptations.
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 accompanying Monk Tang Sanzang's travel 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 his white horse. The 5 of them go through many dangers, most of which involve demons wanting to eat Monk Tang to attain immortality.
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
- Monkey King 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. She was specialised in opera broadcasts.
|《除妖乌鸡国》Chuyao Wujiguo 1982.
|《三打白骨精》aka 'Thrice Subduing the White Bone Spirit'
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.
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. These stories were later featured in the sequel released in 2000.
I particularly enjoyed the dialogue in chinese - funny, witty and concise. The voice acting is great. Also there is quite a 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 enhance 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.
And the golden bands on their heads, they kept swapping materials and looked particularly jarring when the bands were made of foil. Of course, the best kinds were 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.
Making of Xi You Ji/ Journey to the West:
- Xi You Ji was 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!
- 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.
About the Main Cast:
|Tang Juquan 唐继全 is the photographer for the series and has a blog.
|Liu Ling Tong (right) & Liu Xiao Ling Tong
- She initially sought out the Northern Monkey King 《北猴王》 but had disagreements about featuring 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". They met up at 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 (then aged 23). Her first impression was that this Zhang Jinlai appeared too quiet and bookish, and didn't fit the personality of exuberant Sun Wukong. Liu Ling Tong 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.
- His 'failed' performance in the 1982 test screening was his biggest setback as shyness resulted in a stiff performance. He spent a week mulling in solitude and asked to be replaced if necessary, but his father and the directors sent encouragement with doses of pep talks, and he finally stepped up to the challenge and set his reservations aside.
Journey to the West Sequel (2000):
|Journey to the West sequel (2000)
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
Welp, it's going to be a chunk of negative review so you can skip if you don't want to read my complaints lol.
First, I thought the makeup on Wukong was not natural (colour, fur, mask) and the choreography & wushu not monkey-ish enough. Granted Mdm Yang Jie did not direct the wushu scenes to save time, so they got Hong Kong martial arts director Cao Rong 曹荣 to choreograph and shoot, it was sleek but typical Hong Kong wuxia-style. If I wanted to watch that, I'd watch a wuxia drama.
What happened to Wukong's smashy-smashy? Meaning: Wukong leaps into demon's cave from somewhere high up, teases the demon and starts wrecking the furniture, smoke and sparks fly around, he twirls on his cudgel, disappears and reappears behind the villain and a swift kick to his buttocks!! And you laugh along with Wukong.
Instead in the sequel, you get Wukong and demon outside in an open field - convenient - and they start spinning in the air, do synchronised twirls and the you-attack-I-defend confrontation. Wukong's jingubang can be replaced with any old stick then.
I missed the overhead monkey somersaults and monkey leaps, missed the way they utilised elements of opera in Wukong's body movements, missed the golden eyelids that shimmered each time he blinked. Maybe it was the lighting? Maybe it is missing the original crew's direction? I don't know.
And most importantly I missed the mischievous glint in the eyes, I think it was the mask being larger & thicker than previously; so that hindered whatever limited natural expression he had left like smiling and the eyebags. Here Wukong is like a masked monkey.
There was a glimmer of hope in ep. 13 with some interesting moments (the wushu was choreographed by original Lin Zhiqian 林志谦, the smashy-smashy is back, except they fast forwarded his signature pose) but not enough to save the series.
Pigsy here did not show any cute aspects and some parts of his character did not match up with the somewhat endearing pig in the original series - yes, he complains and is greedy but it was too much here, how could they have written him as going off to sell the horse when his master was clearly not dead yet? The horse is not even a real horse, it's the dragon prince! Who needs enemies with brothers like these? There was very little natural comedy, I didn't laugh once except in episode 13 when Monk Tang spat out the hearts.
A plus point is probably the cameo of Li Hong Chang in ep. 13 (the centipede spirit from the 80s version). Don't know why but I like this guy for some reason. A few episodes are interesting, some are repetitive and many scenes are slow on pace. I definitely prefer a one-story per episode format but understand why they had to drag it out. The makeup for some of the villains like the elephant, leopard, lion are nicely done so it's not all bad, but the lipstick colours (mostly in brown tones) are very late-90s and outdated, ditto for some costumes and hair, so very 90s and modern synthetic fabrics. The 80s series costume and makeup still stand up better to time.
Anyway, I'd recommend a watch if you want to complete the story but not a must. It isn't that bad of a tv series but compared to the 1980s version, it pales in comparison. I watched it because Liu Xiao Ling Tong was in it.
On a Side Note:
They included segments from the 1980s version and the 2000 sequel, with a few new sequences but nothing you didn't already know, just a very brief outline. It is mostly about Wu Cheng En (played by Liu Xiao Ling Tong) and his 2 wives. Ma Dehua is back as Pigsy which was nice.
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, which symbolised the early stages of the character development I think. Sun Wukong doesn't look like a 50-year-old, the golden monkey mask looks good from afar but can't tell exactly because all I see are double images (don't got my 3D glasses). Wukong looks a bit chubby with all that layers of clothing. I believe Li Yang did the voice dubbing for monkey again? Unfortunately his voice has deteriorated so Wukong sounds like he has a sore throat lol. Watch if you are curious but again, not a must. The plot is (I'm pretty sure) mostly fiction although based on a historical person.
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:
1992 (Year of the Monkey) New Year segment featuring Liu Xiao Ling Tong & Liu Ling Tong:
2004 (Year of the Monkey) Lunar New Year special featuring Liu Xiao Ling Tong:
----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 in 2016. But anyhow I am going to enjoy my bbq pork slices and pineapple tarts lol. Here's wishing all a blessed Lunar New Year!
*Edit 10 Feb 2016:
Check out PART II: 1986 JOURNEY TO THE WEST SYNOPSIS