Mon­key King makes plans to take over screens around the world

China Daily (Canada) - - TORONTO - By XU­FAN xu­fan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

Cheang’s

di­rec­to­rial

ef­forts

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.”

43-year-old

di­rec­tor

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