Monkey business

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 January, 2007, 12:00am

MOST quest stories end with the heroes achieving their goals. But that is not the case with the Buddhist monk Tripitaka and his three disciples, according to a new production of the Chinese fantasy classic Journey to the West.

The play, presented by the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA) and the Hong Kong Federation of Drama Societies, is the opening performance of The 6th Chinese Drama Festival (Hong Kong 2007).

Performances will run from January 15 to 20 at 7.30pm at the Academy Lyric Theatre.

Created by playwright Anthony Chan and performed by HKAPA students, the story begins where the classic text ends: the monk, after 14 years of pilgrimage during which he and his disciples have fended off numerous monsters and spirits, has reached the end of his quest and found the sacred Buddhist Scriptures.

But it is at that moment that a new challenge arrives. This time it's a journey that takes the holy monk into his own mind, where he comes face to face with his own flaws and desires.

'Anthony Chan wrote the script about 17 years ago when he returned to Hong Kong for work after studying overseas. He then realised that it was life experience, rather than what he had studied [in school], that was more important,' explains director Chan Suk-yi.

This basic theme of the importance of experience ran through the early renditions of the show, in which Chan Suk-yi played Monkey over a decade ago. But the stage artist, now director, wants to add new insights into the play.

'What attracts me most is the dark side of human nature, the snobbish expressions on people's faces and the politics,' he says.

'People will fight against each other, and they will pursue something irrationally.'

The director cites greyhounds, which - to the amusement of the onlookers - will chase an electronic rabbit relentlessly around a track, as an example. 'I want to capture that dark humour,' he says.

Each of the three disciples represents a certain type of character in society, according to the HKAPA students. For example, Pigsy falls into the stereotype of a fair-weather friend, while Monkey is a self-righteous war-monger. They are projections of Tripitaka's character - the hidden sides of his personality that the monk, who has lofty aspirations, is unwilling to acknowledge.

'Admitting to your dark side will give you the advantage of knowing what kind of a person you are,' says the director.

The play also gives new meaning to the Buddhist Scripture, which is the ultimate prize for the monk in the original.

Yeung Wai-lun, who plays Pigsy, says society's obsession with school certificates is no different from the monk's fixation on the Scripture. He says: 'Society subconsciously instils in us the idea that you must have a certificate. But have the students ever thought about why they have to study?'

In the end, it is all about self-understanding and knowing what you want from life that matters, says Yung Ching-nam, who plays Monkey. 'Sometimes it is not just about getting the things you want. The process is also very important,' he says.

Tickets are priced at HK$50 for students (HK$110 and HK$75 for adults). Call 31 288 288 for reservations.