23 Days of Monkey, Day 1 The Journey Begins

It took fifteen years to write and develop the first edition of Monkey the Storytelling game of the Journey to the West. It was first released in July 2010 at the Continuum Games Convention in Leicester UK. You see this was five years ago, when we didn’t have Kickstarters in this part of the world, so taking it along to the largest con I went to and selling a good fifty copies (about a quarter of the attendees) was a big thing for me.  It set the tone for Monkey’s sales, which have mainly been face to face direct sales. One of the aims of the 2nd incarnation kickstarter is to bring the game to a wider audience outside of people who know it from the local cons I’ve run it at or who have come across it online by chance.

Below is a gallery of good memories from the 1st edition’s launch five and a half years ago.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And so with this post the Journey to Monkey’s 2nd Incarnation Kickstarter begins!
Here’s a clip from the Japanese 1970s TV series that was one of my principle inspirations for the game.



Day 1 of 23 Days of Monkey, Kickstarter in 22 days on 8th January 2017.

Not one but two Monkey inspired films!

A big part of my ‘research’ for Monkey the 2nd Incarnation is catching up on all the TV and Film versions directly inspired by the book. In many ways they are useful for finding ideas, especially from a visual context,  on how to bring Monkey to the gaming table.

First of Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West Conquering Demons. Chow is firmly in directing chair, unlike Kung Fu Hustle/Shaolin Soccer which was also the lead actor, but it has the same brightly coloured Road Runner style of his other films. It’s comedic all the way, with occasional glimpses into a more profound themes that he is playing on. This is Chow’s take on the ‘origin’ story of Monkey and Co and the beginning of the Journey to the West. Instead of focusing on Monkey, the star of the show is Tripitaka the Hairy Monk who sports a large Robert Smith/Side Show Bob hair do and is the demon hunting disciple of a fat buddhist priest (who suspiciously looks like Bodai, the familiar fat or Laughing Buddha ). This is a major change from the canonical version of the Priest, who in the book is a middle-aged High Priest of the Tang Empire, and one that in context of the film works very well. Without giving too much away Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy are in their Demon forms, and Tripitaka must overcome them. Problem is he’s a young , soft and gentle but with an arrogant streak – obsessed with chasing the Demons as an expression of “Higher Love” and quite frankly incompetent at his job. He’s the comic fool/hero a reversal of his normal role as Straight man to Monkey’s shenanigans. It’s a great retelling of the origin tale, and makes it more dynamic as befits a kung-fu action film, without losing the essence of the reason why Monkey and Co are on their epic quest.  It all falls into place by the end of the movie and you are ready to embark on the Journey to the West proper. The sequel is apparently coming in 2017.

Surprise! On first glance seems to be cut from the same cloth, a brightly coloured comedic alternative take on the Monkey story. But where Conquering Demons rewrites the Monkey story, while staying true to its spirit, Surprise! writes a new chapter of the story starting with the familiar characters and then adds twists and turns all over. While not up to the sheer cinematic genius of Conquering Demons, it’s an engaging joyous film and worth watching for any Monkey fan.

Getting ready for the Fire Monkey

Well I’m ready for my announcement about the Monkey 2nd Incarnation tomorrow on the Chinese New Year, which is the start of the Chinese Year of the Fire Monkey.

In my travels round the t’internet I’ve found a couple of relevant vids for your enjoyment 🙂

First off is the trailer for the new Monkey King 2. While part one focused on Monkey’s shenanigans in heaven and featured Chow Yun Fat as the Jade Emperor, this one gets down to business and has the four pilgrims (Monkey, Tripitaka, Sandy and Pigsy) kicking demon butt on the road to India.

Next up is a Pepsi advert that amoungst all the product placement (there’s a special 2016 Monkey King Pepsi can for all you collectors out there) tells the tale of the actor who played Monkey in the 1980s Chinese TV show (which I know is my friend Lynn’s favourite, since this is the version she grew up with).

Then there’s the Syney Heralds list of Chinese New Year Dos and Don’t which lists some of the traditions of the day as well as having a rather smart video about the Year of the Fire Monkey.

Finally my friend Lynn a couple of days ago posted this picture of a giant Transformer Monkey King (note the little Monkey on his palm!).

monkey-statue

 

 

Kung Fu Christmas: Water Margin True Colours of Heroes

water-margin-true-colours-of-heroesFrom the 1990s comes this film based off the Chinese Classic The Water Margin.  It covers the meeting of two of the heroes Li Chung and the monk Lu Chi Sum, and the downfall of Lin Chung at the hands of corrupt nobles at court which leads to his outlawing.

From the blurb on YouTube

In this thrilling adaptation of the classic Chinese novel The Water Margin, Lin (Tony K.F. Leung) is the military instructor of the Imperial Guards — a crack fighting outfit. Sensing a diamond in the rough, Lin befriends Lu Chi Sum, an obnoxious monk with superb martial arts powers. But when Lin is framed by the double-dealing court officials, he must join Lu in exile long enough to plot a vengeful return.

The early part of the film establishes Lin as a character and shows how good he is at martial arts, yet how he is noble and honest. But there’s one problem, being a martial artist he’s obsessed with training, despite the wishes of his wife that he should calm down and spend more time doing other stuff. Then one day he meets Lu Chi Sum (a wandering martial artist) at the market, they fight, and then stop to talk. There then follows a fine “Bromance” between the two kung fu heroes, as Lu Chi Sum comes to live with Lin, and they are sparing literally 24 hours a day, smashing up pots, breaking through walls much to Lin’s wife dismay. Lu Chi Sum finally leaves when his wild nature gets him in trouble with the  authorities. The film then .switches to the down fall of Lin at court at the hands of the dim witted but corrupt son of the Prime Minister. It ends on a real low with Lin outlawed swearing vengeance on his tormentors.

This was very much a film I watched on a whim, being linked from some trailers I was watching on YouTube.  Its not up to the production standards of modern releases, and at times almost feels like a TV movie, but the fight scenes (which are numerous) are well up to standard and the storytelling while predictable (which I why I felt no qualms detailing it above) is full of character and good acting.

Anyway pull up a pew, grab some popcorn and enjoy courtesy of YouTube

Kung Fu Christmas Introduction

For some its Wizard of Oz. For others it’s Die Hard which brings them Christmas cheer.  Me I’m not one of them, I like my Christmas tales filled with Kung Fu action of the Hong Kong variety.

It was the UK’s Channel 4 that introduced me to Hong Kong Action movies in the 80s with a short session of Chinese Ghost Stories, which featured Sammo Hung’s classic Spooky Encounters.

Since then the Christmas holidays have always been a time to catch up with new releases and discover old classics. Kung Fu Hustle (which I got as Christmas present), a season of Bruce Lee’s films (other than Enter the Dragon), Donnie Yen’s Ip Man films, Jet Li in the Once Upon a Time in China films and John Woo’s fantastic four hour version of Red Cliff, are films that immediately spring to mind.

This christmas holiday I’ll be doing my usual Kung Fu fest, so come join me as I quickly review what I watch over the festive season. There will definitely be some Monkey inspired stuff, Stephen’ Chow’s excellent Journey to the West Conquering Demons is on the watch list and I’m hoping to make a trip to the cinema to see the newly released Surprise: Journey to the West.

 

Fansubbing

A quick guest post about fansubed Chinese films and TV shows from my friend Lynn Yin. Note that that she talks about the Chinese version(s) of Monkey which most folk won’t be familiar with. Lynn originally brought the Chinese version to my attention when I was demoing Monkey down our local gaming store.

Just wanted to take a moment to talk about Chinese shows and fansubbing. Sorry if this gets long. I used to pick up shows in China, then have to sit by myself and watch them, not able to talk about them with friends and not able to share classics or just shows I love which are part of my cultural makeup with the people closest to me. It used to break my heart not being able to say, if you like Monkey (Journey to the West) or Water Margin, check out the mainland 1980s productions, because they are far, far superior than the others, because those versions have not been officially subbed and therefore are not available to the English speaking audience. The guy who played Monkey in the mainland version – generations of his family played Monkey on stage. He was trained from a very young age to play Monkey on stage and his mannerisms and knowledge of the work is unsurpassable.

All that has changed though, with the dedicated work of fansubbers, who devote hours of time translating and hardsubbing Chinese shows into English, just for the love of it. It takes 3-5 hours to complete a 40 minute episode and shows often run between 30-90 episodes. Classics like Romance of the 3 Kingdoms, Journey to the West and Water Margin (both the 80s and recent makes of all 3 shows) have been subbed and are available free to the English speaking audience. These shows have not been officially translated and are unavailable any other way to a non Mandarin speaker. If they were ever officially available, I’d buy them in a heartbeat.

As well as this, fun martial arts shows like Strange Hero Yi Zhi Mei, the Condor Heroes trilogy and Sword Stained with Royal Blood, fantasy series such as Seven of the Sky, Fairies, Xuan Yuan Sword, dramas like Startling by Each Step, Young Justice Bao and a whole variety of others are also available (from the AncientSeries Youtube channel for ease, or D-Addicts).

So please, if you have a moment, check some of this stuff out – you might like it.