A long, winding road

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 February, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 February, 2001, 12:00am

Sun Wu-kong, the Monkey King, was first portrayed in the 16th-century Ming Dynasty classic Journey To The West written by Wu Cheng-en. He was born from a stone egg as king of the monkeys on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit. The Monkey King is brave, faithful and smart, and boasts 72 different kinds of magic power. And with these talents he protects his master Monk Tang on his way to the west in search of Buddhist texts.

Journey To The West has long been regarded as one of the most important and popular Chinese novels ever written. The Monkey King's adventures have also been adapted into different mediums all over the world, including films, TV drama, computer games and theatre productions. The latest big-screen production will be Hallmark Entertainment's TV film Monkey King, starring New York native Russell Wong, which is due to hit our screens in mid-March.

Journey To The West, a TVB drama series released in 1996, with Dicky Cheung Wai-kin playing the Monkey King, was one of the most popular series at that time. With its heavy use of computer animation, the series lifted TV production standards into a new era. Cheung's performance as the Monkey King was a turning point in his career - it took him to Taiwan where he has since become a superstar.

A Chinese Odyssey Part One - Pandora's Box and A Chinese Odyssey Part Two - Cinderella were both released in 1995, and star Canto comedy king Stephen Chiau Sing-chi as the Monkey King. Instead of following the original storyline, these turned the story into one of romance between the Monkey King and various goddesses. Western audiences have also been attracted to the legend. In 1995, the Asian Story Theatre Company produced Monkey King: The Journey Begins! and toured San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. This play focuses on the first five of the 81 obstacles that the Monkey King and Monk Tang faced in the original tale.

The Chinese legend has hit Japan, too. Cartoonist Akira Toriyama created Dragon Ball in 1984 based on Journey To The West. It ran as a series in Japan for 10 years and has been translated into various languages. But before even then there was the classic TV series Monkey (sometimes known as Monkey Magic) made in the 1970s by Japan's NTV and screened across the globe. And the animated Monkey King is now available on CD-Rom.