Monkey King makes plans to take over screens around the world
China’s lucrative market has become a great attraction for filmmakers around the world in recent years. But domestic talent is now looking overseas: So can Chineselanguage movies make their presence felt abroad?
The numbers are not promising. While China last year earned record box-office receipts of 44.1 billionyuan ($6.68 billion), up nearly 50 percent year on year, only 2.77 billion yuan, or 6 percent, came from overseas.
With the Year of the Monkey on the horizon, China is pinning its hopes on the Monkey King, the best-known monkey in the history of Chinese literature and cinema.
A project backed by the country’s regulator of the movie sector plans to release the upcoming fantasy epic, The Monkey King 2, in 100 cities in 30 countries across four continents on Feb 8, the first day of Chinese Lunar New Year. The film will be subtitled into the languages of the nations in which it’s shown.
Besides, another four big-budget movies featuring the Monkey King will come out this year.
As of now, the 16th-century novel Journey to the West, which features theMonkey King, has been adapted into at least 100 screen titles in China and countries such as Japan and the United States.
Critics and industry sources contacted by China Daily say they believe the Monkey King is the biggest “IP” when it comes to attracting Western audiences.
In China, the term “IP” refers to either a novel, song, or game whose fans can be turned into potential box-office returns.
Meanwhile, TheMonkey King 2 is backed by a huge budget of up to 450 million yuan from 15 studios and a glittering cast led by top stars.
The cast includes veteran actress Gong Li (Baigujing, or White Skeleton Demon), HongKong pop singeractor Aaron Kwok (the Monkey King), Wolf Totem’s star Feng Shaofeng (the Monkey King’s Buddhist monk master Tang Seng) and Chinese-American singer-actor Christian Rand Phillips (a human king).
As the only Chinese actress who has starred in lead roles in awardwinning movies at the Europe’s top three film festivals — Cannes, Venice and Berlin— Gong Li is no doubt among the most-recognized Asian faces in theWest.
Gong, who plays the demon queen, says: “I’ve always wanted to play a role in a film based on Journey to theWest. IknowBaigujing is a household name, with the plots and details familiar to the Chinese, but I promise my character will be quite different from the stereotype.”
And Hong Kong director Pou-Soi Cheang may fulfill her dream as he wants a good balance betweenbeing faithful to the original and trying something unlikely.
In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) novel, a White Skeleton Demon eats humans to attain immortal life.
So, when theMonkey King’s Buddhist monk master becomes her latest target, the demon disguises herself as a human to cheat the monk.
“If you read the novel, you’ll find an interesting phenomenon. While almost all the other demons and spirits in the story are transformed from animals or deities, Baigujing is the only demon who has been a human in her previous life,” says Cheang in an interview with China Daily.
TheveteranHongKongdirectorhas a reason for thedemon’s viciousness.
In the movie, the enchantress, who has had a miserable past, seeks revenge on humans who have abandoned and cheated her.
A dose of Hollywood-style humor has also been added to the film’s dialogues, which shouldmake the movie more palatable to a global audience.
With 1,500 scenes created using digital effects, the movie has many spectacles — from a magnificent castle and gigantic monsters to multiple fights.
“Most Chinese fans in their 30s have a collective memory of the Monkey King and his heroism as a result of the hit series (aired by State broadcaster CCTV in 1986). We want to highlight this emotional connection, and also grab younger viewers,” says Cheang.
The latest data gathered by Internet behemoths like Tencent and Alibaba have found that the average age of China’s main moviegoers is around 21.
satisfied investors in the Monkey King franchise’s first installment, which topped the box-office charts during the 2014 Spring Festival holiday.
So, can the do it again?
While industry sources believe the movie will recoup its investment thanks to its star cast, visual effects and the story, they feel that there is stillsomeway to gowhenit comes to winning the hearts and minds of viewers globally.
As Zhang Hongliu, a movie critic, says: “When a production tries to please viewers of all ages it loses some of its sharpness and could become a mediocre tale.”