Tuesday, January 31, 2017


In the penultimate episode of this season's 'The Librarians', Jacob Stone spent several months in Shangri-La where he was tutored by the Monkey King.  He was then able to utilize his new skills to rescue the Monkey King and save Shangri-La from a ruthless collector named Sterling Lam.
From Wikipedia:
Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King, is a mythological figure who features in a body of legends, which can be traced back to the period of the Song dynasty. He appears as a main character in the 16th century Chinese classical novel Journey to the West. Sun Wukong is also found in many later stories and adaptations. In the novel, he is a monkey born from a stone who acquires supernatural powers through Taoist practices. After rebelling against heaven and being imprisoned under a mountain by the Buddha, he later accompanies the monk Xuanzang on a journey to retrieve Buddhist sutras from India.

Sun Wukong possesses immense strength; he is able to lift his 13,500 jīn(7,960 kilograms (17,550 lb)) staff with ease. He is also extremely fast, able to travel 108,000 li (21,675 kilometres (13,468 mi)) in one somersault. (Note that this is more than half way around the world.) Sun knows 72 transformations, which allow him to transform into various animals and objects; however, he is troubled in transforming into other forms, due to the accompanying incomplete transformation of his tail. Sun Wukong is a skilled fighter, capable of holding his own against the best warriors of heaven. Each of his hairs possess magical properties, capable of being transformed into clones of the Monkey King himself, and/or into various weapons, animals, and other objects. He knows spells to command wind, part water, conjure protective circles against demons, and freeze humans, demons, and gods alike.

The Monkey King has been depicted on TV so many times, rivaling almost all other incarnations of demi-gods on TV save perhaps for Jesus.  (Yes, he should fall into the demi-god category - he was born of a Terran woman.)

But not all of them deserve to remain in Earth Prime-Time, the main Toobworld.  Here's a rundown of those TV series:

'Monkey' ('Saiyūki')a 1978–1980 Japanese television series based on "Journey to the West". It was translated into English by the BBC.

Known simply as Monkey, "the punkiest monkey that ever popped" was born of a stone egg and gained immortality by gorging himself on Immortality Peaches.  Because of his riotous nature, Buddha imprisoned Monkey under a mountain to learn patience and was released in 630 AD.  And that's when his adventure with new companions begin.

'Journey to the West', a two-season television series produced by CCTV, starring Liu Xiao Ling Tong as Sun Wukong. The two seasons were released in 1986 and 1999 respectively. Noted for its faithfulness to the original novel, this series is still considered by many as a classic.

The original lead actors of 'Journey to the West' (1986) — Liu Xiao Ling Tong, Chi Chongrui and Ma Dehua — reprised their roles in 'Wu Cheng'en and Journey to the West', a 2010 television series about Wu Cheng'en and his inspiration for writing the novel "Journey to the West". Sha Wujing, however, was portrayed by Liu Dagang because Yan Huaili, who played the character in 1986, died in April 2009.

This 1986/1999 series is the version I've seen, but only about ten episodes out of the forty or so.  For me, classic though this series was, it is all just a visual recreation of the novel by Wu Cheng'en as seen in that 2010 series..  Anything that happens within it were manifestations of events found in the novel.  Even the recasting of Sha Wujing is okay since it's all part of Whu Cheng'en's imagination.  That same splainin applies to the recasting of many of the actors in several roles while other roles had more than one actor in the role.  To me, that just meant that the author was in the process of rewriting.

So the portrayal of Wu Cheng'en from the 2010 series is firmly planted in the world of Earth Prime-Time and the 1986/99 shows are depictions of his imagination.

'Journey to the West', a 1994 Japanese television series. Nippon TV produced another television series, based on "Journey to the West", titled 'New Monkey', it ran for only one season.

I think if another Monkey King TV series reworks previously established material based on "Journey To The West", then it should be relegated to yet another TV dimension.  Which is fine since there are so many.  However, any time an established character from a different series meets that character, we have to find some way out of the Zonk caused by recasting.  Take former President Bill Clinton as he appeared in the following shows:

  • 'The Nanny' --->
  • 'Niania' (Polish adaptation of 'The Nanny')
  • 'Murphy Brown'
  • 'Leaving L.A.'
  • 'The Powers That Be'
  • 'Beverly Hills, 90210'
  • 'Women of the House'
  • 'The Wayans Brothers'
  • 'Men Behaving Badly'
  • 'Beatrix, Oranje onder Vuur'
Save for Pat Rick in 'Leaving L.A.' and 'Murphy Brown', no actor played Bill Clinton in this list did so again in some other series.  They were all supposed to be President Clinton, so the resemblance to him was paramount.  But if there were differences between them, they could be chalked up to differences in the perception of the character whose basic point of view was shared by the Trueniverse audience

So far I think this is only a problem in the case of 'The Librarians'.  But if you know of a TV portrayal of Sun Wukong aka the Monkey King not covered here, let me know.

'Journey to the West', a 1996 Hong Kong television series produced by TVB, starring Dicky Cheung as Sun Wukong. It was followed by a 1998 sequel, 'Journey to the West II', starring Benny Chan as Sun Wukong.  'The Monkey King: Quest for the Sutra', a 2002 Hong Kong television series loosely based on the novel. It was produced by TVB and starred Dicky Cheung as Sun Wukong again.

There's no Zonk in the recasting of Sun Wukong from Dicky Cheung to Benny Chan and back again.  Toobworld Central accepts that demi-gods can change their appearance, no matter the "religious" source.  As chronicled in the Wikipedia excerpt above, Sun Wukong has the power to go through 72 transformations and that probably includes different versions of his original form. (The other three main characters remained intact with their original actors.) 

In the end, however, these three shows fall into another dimension because it's yet another rehash of the "Journey To The West" saga.

'The Monkey King', also called 'The Lost Empire', a 2001 television adaptation of the legend by Sci Fi Channel.

Nicholas Orton (played by Thomas Gibson) is an American businessman who has lived in China for several years. He has a chance encounter with a beautiful Chinese lady (played by Bai Ling) who says that he is the only one who can save the world from reverting five-hundred years. He is unswayed by this until many modern buildings begin disappearing before his eyes. This mystical lady (revealed later as Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion) transports him to a portal which offers entrance, through the teachings of Confucius (played by Ric Young), to the ancient Chinese underworld.

When Orton (soon to be named The Scholar From Above) reaches the other side of the portal, he finds that his studies of Confucius will come in handy for the path that lies ahead. Orton's first action is to rescue Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, from the mountain in which he has been imprisoned for centuries. Wukong travels with Orton in his quest to save the original manuscript of Journey to the West from retroactive destruction; if the story itself is erased from history, all of the people who were ever inspired by the lessons it teaches will be worse off, and history will permanently change for the poorer. They are later joined by Zhu Bajie (Pigsy) and Sha Wujing (Friar Sand) to help them on their way.

I need to see this, despite the bad reviews.  One main reason is that Eddie Marsan as Pigsy - big fan of the actor since 'Little Dorrit' and "The Thirty-Nine Steps", and he's got the snout for the role already.   

With the precedence now set that the Monkey King can transform into other forms, we still have no problem with him being a Recastaway.  If he was imprisoned under a mountain again, then he was there for four hundred centuries at best.  (Another reason I need to see this.)  Then again, Orton crossed over into a different dimension and so this Sun Wukong could be the counterpart to the Monkey King of Earth Prime-Time's dimension.

But for the time being, I'll consider Russell Wong's character to be the Monkey King of Earth Prime-Time.

Saiyūki, a 2006 Japanese television series produced by Fuji Television. The lead character of Son Goku (Sun Wukong) was given to Shingo Katori, a member of the pop group SMAP. This remake has been so successful as to break viewing records with one in three Japanese viewers watching each episode of the series.

It is a successor to the popular 1970s TV show 'Saiyūki', known outside Japan as 'Monkey'. There have been three dramas and one special based on "Journey to the West" that have aired previously, making this one the fifth adaptation in Japan.

Rather than producing a second season, 
[because of a failing first seasonFuji TV and Toho produced a feature film version of "Saiyūki", that was released in Japan on July 14, 2007. The film was a box office success, becoming the 8th highest-grossing film of 2007 in Japan. The whole plot of the film is loosely based on chapters 32-35 of "Journey to the West", Son Gokū trying to save a kingdom (with the help of a young princess) usurped by King Gold Horn and Silver Horn.

While I have no problem with a variety of Recastaways, I don't want to deal with seeing the same storyline played out again and again.  So I think this version should go to the Borderlands where movies and TV shows are blended together.  

'Wu Cheng'en and Journey to the West', a 2010 Chinese television series which tells the story of Wu Cheng'en and his inspiration for writing the novel. The main cast from the 1986 'Journey to the West' version reprised their roles in this series.

I dealt with this series above while talking about the 1986 series.  This series causes that original version to be considered as similar to other shows like 'Jack Of All Trades' and John Hart's version of 'The Lone Ranger' in being TV shows within Toobworld but visible to the Trueniverse audience.

'Journey to the West', a 2010 Chinese television series directed and produced by Cheng Lidong, starring Fei Zhenxiang as Sun Wukong. It started airing on Zhejiang Satellite TV on 14 February 2010.

Being yet another version of the events chronicled in "Journey To The West", I'm going to send this series off to the Land O' Remakes.

'Journey to the West', a 2011 Chinese television series produced by Zhang Jizhong, starring Wu Yue as Sun Wukong. It started airing on Southern Television Guangdong on 28 July 2011.

And yet another dimension reporting in since it walked the path of all the earlier TV shows.  As the TV Universe is full of dimensions that need their own versions of so many characters, I might as well spread the wealth.

So in the end, I'm using these three shows as being a part of the main Toobworld.

  • 'Monkey' ('Saiyūki') - 1978–1980 from Japan 
  • 'Wu Cheng'en and Journey to the West' - 2010 from China
  • 'The Monkey King' ('The Lost Empire') - 2001 from USA
with a reminder that 'Journey To The West' (1986/1999 from China) was basically a manifestation of the book author's imagination.

Finally we come to the Monkey King's appearance in 'The Librarians'.....


When The Monkey King's sacred homeland of Shangri-La is taken over by a ruthless collector of magical artifacts, the balance of the Universe is put in jeopardy, forcing all the Librarians to come together to help save the imperiled land but at a terrible cost.

It would seem that this Monkey King has been ensconced in Shangri-La for centuries, probably longer than Sun Wukong had been buried under that mountain.  This would negate the possibility of keeping the mini-series from Sci-Fi in Earth Prime-Time.  (I'm not about to remove 'The Librarians' from the main Toobworld!)

But Ernie Reyes, Jr.'s portrayal is only known as the Monkey King, not as Sun Wukong.  "Monkey King" can be considered a job title and so he could have been the son of Sun Wukong and had been the Heir Apparent to the title of Monkey King.  
But citing Occam's Razor, it's probably easier to say that he was the one and only original Monkey King, the same demi-god who had been imprisoned in that alternate dimension (but not an alternate TV dimension.)  He had already been the ruler of Shangri-La before he went to that other world centuries ago and was imprisoned under the mountain.  Once freed in 2001, he probably returned to the dimension of Toobworld with Nick Orton. (Again, I need to see this series.)  And once he was back, perhaps hoping for a fresh start in his immortal life, he took advantage of another of his 72 transformations to basically regenerate into the new visage seen in 'The Librarians'.

Perhaps the Monkey King will show up again someday in 'The Librarians'.  As he is a character in the public domain, maybe he could appear in other TV shows as well.  'Doctor Who' is one possibility; the new incarnation of 'Star Trek' is another.  (Hey, the original had Apollo show up, so why not?)  But the heyday for the Monkey King may be over in Toobworld - the perfect show for Sun Wukong could have been either 'Hercules: The Legendary Journeys' and 'Xena, Warrior Princess' as mythic figures from other beliefs interacted with those main characters as well.

I doubt we'd ever see the Monkey King in an episode of 'The New Pope', but damn!  It would've helped make that interesting!



Rob Buckley said...

The 70s Japanese TV show Monkey was compulsory viewing for practically everyone in the UK my age!


Lovely write-up. I knew there'd be more adaptations of Journey to the West (including Into The Badlands), but I had no idea there'd be quite as many or so many authentic ones

jose loayza said...

In fact it is possible that they are only pupils of the original monkey king, since china has sacred mountains and it would be perfect that 'monkeys' as a title similar to King or Emperor or the same 'Iron Fist' are those who take care of it, but that in turn a gap as no one is 'the true monkey king'.