The 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng’en, is one of the foundational texts of Chinese culture, and has been adapted countless times over the years. Australian audiences are most familiar with it in the form of the Japanese late ’70s TV series, Saiyuki (Monkey), which still retains a cult following today, but now the venerable tome is being transfigured into a new form, the 10 part children’s series, Legend of Monkey.
As the press release tells us, “Inspired by the 16th Century Chinese fable Journey to the West, the 10-part half hour series follows a teenage girl and a trio of fallen gods on a perilous journey as they attempt to bring an end to a demonic reign of chaos and restore balance to their world.
“The talented and diverse young cast includes Chai Hansen (Mako Mermaids, The 100) as Monkey, with Luciane Buchanan (Filthy Rich, Blue Rose) playing Tripitaka, Josh Thomson (Terry Teo, 7 Days, The Project) playing Pigsy and Emilie Cocquerel (Lion, An Accidental Soldier) playing Sandy.
“The series is being filmed at stunning locations in and around Auckland, New Zealand, as well as on spectacular purpose-built sets that bring to life the magical fantasy world our characters inhabit.”
See-Saw Films and Jump Film & TV are handling production duties for ABC, NZTV, and Netflix, with Jacquelin Perske (Seven Types of Ambiguity, Spirited, Will) acting as head writer, along with Craig Irvin (Nowhere Boys) and Samantha Strauss (Dance Academy) Gerard Johnstone (Housebound, The Jaquie Brown Diaries) is the lead director, while Craig Irvin is calling the shots on additional episodes.
Which is all very well and good, but is this the time to be mounting a multicultural take on a key Chinese text? Ghost in the Shell just got put through the ringer for monkeying (pun intended) with the race of its main character, even though the milieu it depicted was incredibly diverse. It’s worth noting that, of the main cast here, only one is of Asian descent – Chai Hansen, whose father is Thai. Surely this material, more than most, is calling out for more Chinese creators and performers in the mix.
But here’s a question: does Journey to the West get a pass because it’s been adapted across cultural and ethnic lines before? The current American martial arts action series, Into the Badlands, is Journey to the West with the serial numbers filed off, and the most popular version in Australia, Monkey, is Japanese, not Chinese (big difference), to cite just two examples. There is, of course, no baseline here, and cultural mores are ever shifting, but there are arguments to be made for both cases.
The Legend of Monkey hits some time in 2018. Expect copious think pieces and probably an online petition or three along with it.