As well as rereading the 1000+ page 4 volume 100 chapter translation of the Journey to the West by Antony Wu published by University of Chicago Press, which is a very complete and detailed version of the novel compared to the large number of abridged versions out there, I also gave my eyes a break by taking in the large number of comics, TV series and Films – most of which I was unaware of when I was writing the first game.
Monkey subdues the White Bone Demon. This is an amazing series of wood cuts from 16th Century China, which tells the whole of one chapter, If you want to get the essence of what adventuring in the Journey to the West is like read this.
Because the book is in the public domain, 1st edition had lots of scans from the book as its illustrations.
Adventures in China Monkey King by Wei Dong is a 20 issue full colour Manga format comic that has 20 issues. I’ve bought the first four issus from Amazon and they come with a Large poster of one of the featured characters (issue one had the demon hunting Prince Natha for example). Bright colourful and faithful to the story, highly recommended.
Monkey TV series Chinese version
I have fond memories of the 1970s/1980s Japanese TV series Monkey Magic that was shown here in the UK during the 1980s. It was my first encounter with the Journey to the West. It looks dated now and isn’t the most faithful adaptation of the book, but it retains a great deal of humour amoungst the action. My favorite TV version however is the 1986 Chinese TV version of the Journey to the West whose star Liu Xiao Ling Tong was a member of a family who were members of the Peking Opera who specialized in playing the Monkey King. His elder brother was due to inherit the role from his father, but he died of leukemia so Zhang inherited it and his performance is dedicated to his older brother. The result is breathtaking.
Monkey Magic ( 2007) Or Adventures of Super Monkey , is a Japanese Film that follows the same hyper asian humorous format of the 70s/80s Japanese TV series of the same name. It fun and well worth watching. My only nit pick is that Sandy and Pigsy don’t get much time in the spotlight.
Stephen Chow of Kung Fu Hustle/Shaolin Soccer did his take on the start of the book with his 2013 film 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.
The Forbidden Kingdom staring Jackie Chan and Jet Li is a tremendous film which features the Monkey King, but is not directly based upon the Journey to the West. Its a very western friendly film with the most of it in English and often has the Chinese Stars smile knowingly into the camera and explain various troupes of Kung Fu films to the audience. I watched this with my 7 year old son (who loves Monkey Magic) recently and he was happily absorbed.