The Monkey King, or Havoc in Heaven

A new 3D, CGI-amped version of the famed Chinese tale of The Monkey King (大闹天宫)came out a few days ago in cinemas across China. As expected, the new version is not particularly good.

This story of the Monkey King is the prelude to Journey to the West myth cycle and tells of the origins of The Monkey King who is destined to accompany the monk Tang Seng on his 10-year journey to India to fetch sacred Buddhist scriptures as a way to atone for his rather poor behavior in thinking himself superior to Heaven.

The new version is a confused mishmash of the Ming original, now choosing to situate the Monkey King in the midst of a fierce battle between gods and demons, and also suggesting the Monkey King might have a paramour–both far removed from the spirit of the original. Even worse though, the animation and 3D effects are well below Hollywood standards.

The best film version of The Monkey King remains the original cartoon produced in the early 1960s by the Shanghai Animation Film Studio. It is a classic of world animated cinema, maybe the best piece of animation China has ever produced. It’s well worth watching (VPN required, no English subtitles).

It’s a wonderful piece of 2D animation, for sure, but don’t overlook the soundtrack which is also fantastic–itself a classic of Beijing Opera. Enjoy!

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