Bring­ing a Chi­nese clas­sic to life

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By WANG ZHUOQIONG in Bei­jing

Look­ing ahead, the open­ing of Shang­hai Dis­ney Re­sort will likely be the big event in Asia.”

vice pres­i­dent of Aecom Asia Pa­cific


The Mon­key King, also known as Sun Wukong, started out as fa­bles shared among fam­i­lies in an­cient China be­fore it was turned into the novel Jour­ney to the West, con­sid­ered to be one of the four great­est books in Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture.

From there, the epic tale of the char­ac­ter and his ad­ven­tures in es­cort­ing a Bud­dhist monk to re­trieve scrip­tures across var­i­ous re­gions has been adapted into nu­mer­ous forms, in­clud­ing stage plays, op­eras, an­i­mated se­ries and toys. Now, a theme park in Bei­jing will be based on the leg­endary Mon­key King. It is sched­uled to open by 2019.

The pro­ject is be­ing man­aged by United States-based de­sign and pro­duc­tion com­pany Thinkwell. As the in­dus­try’s lead­ing player, Thinkwell has worked with the some of the world’s lead­ing stu­dios and com­pa­nies on de­vel­op­ing in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and brands, mu­se­ums, ex­hi­bi­tions, as well as theme parks and re­sorts. Their projects in­clude Harry Pot­ter at Leavesden Stu­dios in Lon­don and the snow park at Ski Dubai in the United Arab Emi­rates.

“They took a risk by hir­ing an in­ter­na­tional com­pany as the Mon­key King is such a beloved Chi­nese char­ac­ter. But they knew from the mo­ment we met them that we took this pro­ject very se­ri­ously,” said Kelly Ryner, pres­i­dent of Thinkwell Asia, who added that they have also been help­ing their Chi­nese part­ners de­velop their own in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights for the Mon­key King.

At Thinkwell’s new of­fice in the cen­tral busi­ness district in Bei­jing, large piles of draw­ings of dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters from the tales of the Mon­key King can be found on the desks of the cre­ation team, and they ac­count for just a frac­tion of the work in progress. Hav­ing heard lit­tle of the story be­fore they were ap­proached by Luoyang Zon­hon Zhuoyue Es­tate in 2010, ev­ery mem­ber of the team has since spared no ef­fort in un­der­stand­ing the story and its sig­nif­i­cance to China’s cul­ture, so much so that they at times think they ac­tu­ally know more about it than some of their Chi­nese coun­ter­parts, said Ryner.

Thinkwell’s ex­ec­u­tives be­lieve that theme parks and en­ter­tain­ment cen­ters in China have im­mense mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially with ma­jor events such as the Win­ter Olympic Games in Zhangji­akou tak­ing place in 2022.

Be­sides the Mon­key King theme park, the com­pany is also keen to cre­ate Chi­nese ver­sions of their US projects, which ex­plains why it de­cided to open an of­fice in Bei­jing. The staff num­bers in the Bei­jing of­fice are ex­pected to grow from its cur­rent man­power of 33 to 65 be­fore the end of sum­mer this year.

“Peo­ple are look­ing for things to do but they have less free time than they used to. That’s why they want to spend their time well. That’s why they are de­mand­ing high qual­ity ex­pe­ri­ences,” said Randy Ewing, vice pres­i­dent of Thinkwell’s de­sign depart­ment.

Ewing said that Thinkwell is com­mit­ted to de­liv­er­ing a thor­oughly im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence with the Mon­key King theme park, say­ing: “We are not try­ing to insert for­eign ideas into Chi­nese prod­ucts. Rather, with th­ese lo­cal sto­ries, we want to cre­ate unique Chi­nese prod­ucts. At the same time, we also have to make sure that our projects can at­tract tourists who are com­ing to China.”

The up­com­ing Shang­hai Dis­ney Re­sort would raise the level of ex­pec­ta­tions in the Chi­nese mar­ket and this will spur more de­vel­op­ers to look for rep­utable firms like Thinkwell, said Ewing, who has man­aged 20 projects in­volv­ing theme parks and mu­se­ums.

Paul Red­ding, vice pres­i­dent of Thinkwell Asia, noted that the com­pany doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily need ex­ist­ing con­tent to suc­ceed, say­ing that they can help clients de­velop orig­i­nal sto­ries based on a theme be­fore cre­at­ing in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and brands that are com­mer­cially vi­able.

“You have to keep in mind who is your au­di­ence and how you can tell the story to make it en­ter­tain­ing. It’s about cre­at­ing in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters and ac­tions and repack­ag­ing it into a for­mat that the au­di­ence can en­joy,” he added.

Red­ding used EonTime World, a themed amuse­ment park in China’s north­east­ern city of Harbin which was de­vel­oped by Thinkwell, as an ex­am­ple. The com­pany had brought to life the unique sto­ries it cre­ated based on the Dream Bun­nies and the Time Weaver, char­ac­ters from Chi­nese mythol­ogy.

To Red­ding, the recipe for suc­cess doesn’t lie in hav­ing the fastest ride or the big­gest space. Rather, it is the emo­tional con­nec­tion that the ex­pe­ri­ence of­fers that drives vis­i­tors to come back.

“You can spend all your re­sources to build the fastest and tallest rides now. But that will all go to waste in just a few years be­cause some­one else is go­ing to build some­thing even faster and taller,” said Red­ding.


Theme parks in China have ex­pe­ri­enced ma­jor growth in re­cent years.


The Mon­key King theme park in Bei­jing will be opened by 2019.

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