Shanghaiist noticed that the Chinese press was running something about Steven Spielberg making a movie adaptation of the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West (西游记). Now you don’t get much more classic than this: This novel and its characters (Xuanzang a.ka.Tangseng the monk, Sunwukong a.k.a. the Monkey King, Friar Sand a.ka. Sandy, and Pigsy a.k.a Pig) are known to just about every Chinese person alive since the late Ming dynasty, when the novel was published (okay, well it might have taken awhile to catch on). The story received a new lease on life when, in 1986, CCTV put on the live action show, and while some of the effects are complete cheese to us now, back then they were considered something of a milestone in TV. It also proved that people in China could be and were quite willing to be enthralled by this medium. Even today, theme songs and music live in such places as Shanghaiist’s girlfriend’s mobile phone ring, where quite appropriately, Pigsy’s song plays (but don’t tell her we said that).
We thought we had heard of this somewhere, though for some reason it had escaped our minds. Searching in English we found that there were plenty of mentions of Spielberg’s plans to make the movie, such as here and here. We’re sure that (especially Asian and Chinese) film related sites and blogs ran this before, as this isn’t your run of the mill film happening. But obviously we somehow missed it, and that’s most likely because we don’t spend enough surfing the internet.
The Chinese press reports that the man who played the Sunwukong (Monkey King) role, Zhang Jinlai, was initially opposed to having a foreign director make this film. He said that Zhang Yimou or Ang Lee or some other Chinese director should get first dibs on it. However, he’s said on his blog and in interviews with China Newsweek that if they have to get an American to do it, then Spielberg’s still the best candidate for the job.
Well, it seems that Spielberg thinks so as well: It’s said that the folks at Dreamworks have already commenced working on the script and that this film, when completed, is going to be very Lord of the Rings-esque — breathtaking, epic, pick your superlative.
And that’s what worried Zhang Jinlai, who has been, since his involvement with the series 20 years ago, actively working on the promotion and preservation of Journey to the West related culture. In fact, on his blog (in Chinese), where much of the China Newsweek article info was transcribed, he deplores the recent trend of sexualizing the Chinese classics. He says that the Monkey King is “asexual” and that wantonly putting romantic intrigue and boning in these classics ought to be forbidden by law (and he’s not kidding about that, he wants legislation passed to that effect).
Well, we’re not quite sure how this is going to end. Zhang is going over to the US later this summer to talk to Spielberg about this. There are rumors that he will reprise his role (even though he’s kind of old now), or at least serve as a type of consultant just to make sure that his worst fears — that the Monkey King will turn into his evil Hollywood cousin, King Kong, a soulless CG monstrosity — are not realized. Zhang praises Hollywood’s technical bag of tricks, but believes that if the movie is to win over the Chinese audiences, it’s going to have a Chinese heart inside. Will it be “Western usefulness” versus “Chinese essence” all over again?
Photo from Sina.com.