Sunday, 1 June 2008


From the BBC press site: BBC Sport collaborates with Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn for Beijing Olympics. Hewlett and Albarn are the creators of the virtual band Gorillaz, and have brought a similar visual style to the BBC's Olympic credit sequences (larger image here) , which will be based on the classic folk epic Journey To The West aka The Monkey King. (They have already produced, under the direction of Chen Shi-Zheng, a spectacular musical stage adaption, Monkey - Journey to the West).

Journey to the West is Wu Ch'eng-en's vastly mythologised and embroidered fantasy, written in the mid-1500s, on the real-life journey of the 7th century Chinese monk Xuan Zang, who travelled to India and brought Buddhist scriptures back to China. A while back I found another nice picture, in anodised titanium, of the chief characters on the September 2004 cover of the materials journal JOM (like the BBC, I assume, JOM chose the story as an metaphor for East meeting West). The priest Xuanzang is escorted by Sun Wukong (Monkey, a powerful trickster-god constrained to aid him), and his companions Zhu Bajie (Pigsy) and Sha Wujing (Sandy), who are also divine and forced to atone for misdeeds by demeaning reincarnations - the former as a pig, the latter as a cannibal sand monster. Tripitaka is, incidentally, a misnomer for Xuanzang; it's not actually his name, but an honorific for priests who had mastered the Buddhist scriptural canon called the Tripitaka - "three baskets" in Sanskrit.

The story has been retold many times. A very accessible book version I recommend is Alison Waley's Dear Monkey , which abridges down to handy paperback size the partial translation (30 of the 100 chapters) by her father, Sinologist Arthur Waley. Online, has a summary and illustrated retelling. I'm not ashamed to admit that I know the story primarily from the cult Japanese TV series starring Masaaki Sakai - see Monkey Heaven and YouTube). Despite the dire special effects and peculiar English dubbing, the series was remarkably faithful to the original stories; for instance, Monkey's bizarre powers, as described in this appreciation by Matthew Craig, or the Five Pillars at the End of the Universe incident, are perfectly authentic.

- Ray

Addendum: the animation is now up at BBC Sport - see Meet Monkey.

- Ray


  1. Thanks for that - one look at that youTube link and I'd wasted half-an-hour. I had forgotten the original dubbing, which seems to have involved Bert Kwouk (man without shame).

  2. I had a glance too: they're still great fun, although after 30 years the stereotyping is a bit dated. I slightly feel that about the website for the stage show also: the Gorillaz-style artwork is very vivid and characterful, but depicting Chinese characters as slitty-eyed with big toothy grins is so Last Century (see Slitty eyes and buck teeth? It must be China).