Journey to the West: My Childhood, An Unforgettable Classic

The first adaptation of Journey to the West that I had ever watched was the 1996 TVB's show starring Dicky Cheung as the famous Monkey King. I was about 10 to 11 years old and the show was running on NTV7, airing both seasons in a row, in which Benny Chan portrayed Sun Wukong for the second season. This is one of those unforgettable shows from my childhood that has quite a nostalgic effect on me. Even right now, at the age of 22, I'm still a huge fan of this epic Chinese classical novel that I keep tab of every news about remakes on the shows. Of course there are many remakes, and it is not possible for me to have watched or include everything in this post. So, I'll just show you the ones I've already watched, or watching, and some I wanted to get my hands on in the future. (Note: list not according to years)

I've already watched:

1. TVB's Adaptation

1996's Journey to the West 
1998's Journey to the West

These were the shows that had been a part of my childhood; they had been making my imaginations- as a child- go beyond the impossible, they had also taught me some codes of morality and a semblance of beauty in a life full of mercy and forgiveness, they had shown me the importance of respect between young and old, the importance of knowledge, to appreciate teachers and even friendship. My sisters and I waited for the show every night, making sure we'd done our revision and completed our homework before. My mom had some rules about watching TV- that was for us to always do our homework and study first before going off to watch our favorite shows. Thus, I work hard on my studies just so my mom would allow me to enjoy watching the Monkey King and his friends on their quest for sutras (that was why I was one of the best students during primary school). They had made me laugh and forget my problems, they had colored my young life with beautiful stories. So you can understand why- among all of the Chinese shows that were abundant on TV once upon a time- I am so in love with this one particular Chinese story.

I had both of the DVDs thanks to some night shopping around Centre Point's Speedy. They got the "Buy 1, Free 1" sale on a bunch of Chinese boxset dramas, and I was thrilled to find these two on the very shelves in which the sign was propped up. Watching these again, I remembered again how nice to hear the soundtracks, their constant bickering, and those ridiculous demons bullying Tang San Zang and his disciples around. They had this narrator who tell the story to the audience the entire time, and not all of the stories were faithful to the original novel. Sometimes the pace was off- as if they were trying to hurry by the boring parts- and focused too long on one plot. Watching this again, being very critical as I am now, I realized they were not perfect. But it was still very enjoyable and it brought out so many memories as I watched these two seasons again.

2. CCTV's adaptation
1986's Journey to the West
Arguably the most authentic interpretation of the Chinese novel, and also got the best performance of Sun Wukong by actor Liu Xiao Ling Tong. It was hard for me to find a download link for this show, besides, most CCTV production did not come with English or Malay subtitles around here. But I was delighted to find a nice fan whom shared this show with us on Youtube along with Eng subs. I had spent an amount of time on Youtube on my sixth semester watching every episodes and became so indulged in them I found my love for the novel strengthen even more.

I liked Liu Xiao Ling Tong's acting here as he was really believable as Wukong, and his cheekiness was spot on. I liked how he acted with all his movement, and attitudes matched up Wukong's playfulness, arrogance and wisdom described in the novel. If I was still a kid, I would had thought that it was a real monkey acting in this show. I also loved the actors playing San Zang, Bajie and Wujing here. San Zang, meek and naive as well as kind (too kind in fact it frustrated Wukong all the time), Bajie the no good lazy piggy who liked to bad-mouth Wukong at every given chance, and the loyal Wujing. The most important aspect of Journey to the West was the relationship of the four characters as they have some symbolism towards Buddhism teachings or wisdom. This show focused on that and delivered the messages of the novel effectively.

And it was also nice to see how close Wukong and San Zang here; Wukong respected and tended to his Master with utmost care, and San Zang tried his best to educate his disciples so that they would be enlightened. Apart from that, this show was funny as hell. I love the part where the ever shy and meek San Zang went positively stressed out at a Queen's advance towards him that he scolded Bajie (who joked around that the monk should forget about the sutras and get married) and proceeded to tell Wukong to hit Bajie. Wukong, in his cute monkey way, laughed and spanked Bajie- later whispering to Bajie to not say anything to take care of his Master's distressed heart. Another funny part was when they arrived at a monk-hating country, where Wukong played around with the soldiers disappearing and appearing inside a closet. Every season was enticing, touching, and hilarious. I can even say out loud that this is my favorite Journey to the West adaptation of all time.

Currently Watching:

2010's Journey to the West (Cheng Lidong)
1. 2010's adaptation

I first heard about this new adaptation whilst watching the 1986 JTTW on Youtube and stumbled upon a trailer of this show. I was happy to know that there was a new adaptation, and I was eager to see how this would turn out. I watched a bit scenes posted by fans on Youtube, and I loved the fight scenes. I also quite liked the casts for the characters as I thought they were very fitting. Besides, Sun Wukong is super cute here. In a monkey kind of way.

I found the complete boxset at 1Borneo's Speedy, but I was disappointed when I found out that there were no subtitles. The boxset seemed to be popping out everywhere around KK taunting me as my Chinese was not quite good. I watched an episode online, but I'd only managed to understand a little bit of what they were saying. I know the story of course, since I'd also downloaded the novel and had read through it. But still, it wasn't quite fun watching and being frustrated because I couldn't comprehend the language.

So, I couldn't describe the joy of me finding this and this website. All I care about is the subs though. Even if the episodes got taken down before I managed to download all of 'em, I can still buy the DVD, rip the show and watch them with the Eng subs on my laptop. I've just watched until the 10 episodes as the I'd reached the download limit for the day. So far so good. What I love about this adaptation were not the extravagant CGI effects (they were rather cheesy); but I loved the pacing, the way the characters are portrayed, and the costumes. Unlike TVB's adaptation, the director narrate and grow the character of Wukong without haste. I loved how they showed the whole 'chaos in Heaven and Earth' ordeal as something simple and yet complex.

Wukong was too easygoing, ignorant, and arrogant, but he was a loyal friend and kind to his family. He didn't understand why the deities and Jade Emperor treated him in an insignificant way and revolted. They put like 4 to 5 episodes showing the conflict between Wukong and the heavenly deities growing from simple offends to a large war and chaos, making the Jade Emperor desperate and later Buddha himself came down to subdue Wukong. I loved how they didn't put Wukong to be the only one blamed for his doings, yet showed how his lack of knowledge and the deities ignorance in educating him resulted in him doing his mistakes. Even the Queen Mother admitted their faults. Nezha also pointed out to his father that it was their (the deities) fault that Wukong was so rebellious, since they knew Wukong got potential and yet they did not try to educate him on right and wrong.

Right now, I'm where Wukong had met San Zang and that their journey had just begun. The chemistry between the actors here were good in my opinion. I'd loved to see how this show will grow.

2. 2002's adaptation

2002's The Monkey King: Quest for the Sutra
This was not THE Journey to the West but it was loosely based on the novel, and a lot of the stories in it were not found on the original plot. I do not have anything against 'loosely-based' series, but I do have problems with the pacing, plot and even acting in this series. Dicky Cheung, although still a charming guy, portrayed Wukong more as a person with a boring ass Mary Sue-ish personality than the ever mischievousness monkey the world had come to know and love. San Zang actor was fine but in my opinion was also boring, and Wujing was like an innocent kid who  talked in a childish way but seemed to be a bit clever than the TVB's Wujing. However I loathed Bajie with fierce intensity. He was goddamn annoying I just wished the show would be more 'loosely based' by killing him off.

This show disappointed me, because it had a lot of potential, and yet it did not show the desired product. The jokes were too bland, some of the actors and actresses were overacting, and some of the plot was just ridiculous and unbelievable. It was even lame that Wukong was like instant buddies with all of the characters that he originally should be having conflict with. They gave Wukong a love story here- which was, quite fine for me- but still I couldn't believe the love story. Red Boy, one of the finest villains in JTTW, was too idiotic and hateable as well. And Wukong fought with him with this macho, stuck-up cold attitude that most anime passed off as being cool. Maybe I'd always known Wukong to be a playful, mischievous monkey that would rather laughed off at his opponents rather than act all cool-like. It was fine if they wanted to portray Monkey King in a different approach, but I admit I did not like this version of Wukong the most.

I'm still having a hard time finishing this, as I need to wait for the right mood to come for me to even consume one episode of it.

Is Looking Forward To:

2011's Journey to the West (Zhang Jizhong)
If you see the poster, they paid careful details on the characters' appearance. I've seen some on scenes on Youtube, and was a bit aghast to see that the actors were having a hard time moving their lips on that masks while they were talking, 'cause that effect made them looked awkward. However, this seem to have a more somber atmosphere, more heavy and serious. I heard that Zhang Jizhong is a prominent and successful film director, so I am curious with this newest adaptation, I want to see how he delivers this story. Unfortunately, they didn't give out Eng subs. At least none that I know of. Seriously, what gives? Fans of Journey to the West should start a petition to put these shows on air for the non-Chinese people. But I hope to see this soon, and hope to find the subs for it as well.

That is all for now. I shall ramble till then.

Update: I just knew this show is running on Astro's 8TV! I'm such a noob!