Lat­est Mon­key King movie to ex­plore fe­male-ruled king­dom

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By XU FAN xu­fan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Chang­sha’s sky was dark above. But a sta­dium in Hu­nan’s pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal glowed in the com­pany of beau­ti­ful young women on Dec 4.

It was a cer­e­mony an­nounc­ing 12 win­ners, who’ ll ap­pear in The Mon­key King 3 — a film adapted from a chap­ter on a fe­male-ruled place in the 16th­cen­tury Chi­nese clas­sic Jour­ney to the West.

The ac­tresses are among 1,000 cho­sen from more than 30,000 hope­fuls through a na­tional cam­paign launched in Au­gust. The 12 will play sup­port­ing roles, while the oth­ers will serve as ex­tras — that is, as the king­dom’s sub­jects.

It was an­nounced the king­dom’s ruler — the main fe­male role — will be played by A-lis­ter Zhao Liy­ing, whose hit TV se­ries has re­ceived more than 100 bil­lion views on stream­ing sites.

The film’s Hong Kong-based direc­tor Cheang Pou-soi ex­plains Zhao’s tem­per­a­ment — dy­namic, yet calm — makes her the per­fect fit for the char­ac­ter de­scrip­tion in the orig­i­nal work.

“She will ex­pe­ri­ence an un­likely ro­mance. I be­lieve the emo­tional scenes will be the most ap­peal­ing parts. But con­sid­er­ing mod­ern tastes, we added some comedic el­e­ments,” says Cheang, who also di­rected the fran­chise’s pre­vi­ous two in­stall­ments.

The novel by Wu Cheng’en, which fic­tion­al­izes Tang Dy­nasty (618-907) monk Xuan Zang’s trav­els to In­dia — largely by giv­ing him three pow­er­ful, but de­mon-like ap­pren­tices as es­corts — is among China’s most cel­e­brated.

Main­land ac­tor Feng Shaofeng plays the monk. Hong Kong megas­tar Aaron Kwok con­tin­ues as the Mon­key King. Co­me­dian Xiao Shenyang re­turns as the pig ap­pren­tice.

In the third in­stall­ment, the quar­tet stum­bles upon the TheMon­keyKing3. King­dom of Women, where Xuan Zang is tempted by its em­press.

He’s torn be­tween the monarch’s pro­posal and monas­tic pro­pri­ety i n an al­most Shake­spearean dilemma.

Sac­ri­fic­ing per­sonal ro­mance for the greater good is a com­mon trope in Chi­nese cul­ture.

The theme is typ­i­cal of films from the coun­try, in­clud­ing Jet Li’s 1982 mar­tial arts drama The Shaolin Tem­ple.

The ques­tion is whether it can, lit­er­ally, make the jour­ney to the West, where it doesn’t have as strong a his­tor­i­cal foun­da­tion, since the big-bud­get tent­pole has high hopes to plant a stake over­seas.

The film, slated for re­lease dur­ing the 2018 Spring Fes­ti­val, is ex­pected to cost 500 mil­lion yuan ($73.5 mil­lion), go­ing by the lat­est in­vest­ment fig­ures.

The crew is al­ready more than 1,000 mem­bers and an­other 1,500 will be hired for post­pro­duc­tion. It will be shot in Jiangsu, Sichuan and Zhe­jiang provinces, and in Tai­wan.

The scriptwriter, Wen Ning, re­vealed in an ear­lier in­ter­view with China Daily that the story will build upon a struc­ture that’s em­pathic with over­seas view­ers.

He says the tale, which de­vel­ops mul­ti­ple threads that in­ter­weave palace con­spir­a­cies and lots of ac­tion, will de­pict the an­cient story in a new way.

Some in­dus­try watch­ers be­lieve the film may prove to be an­other Chi­nese-lan­guage movie that makes a suc­cess­ful foray into the North Amer­i­can mar­ket.

“The Mon­key King story is prob­a­bly the an­cient Chi­nese story that’s best known in the West,” says Jiang Yong, a Bei­jing-based film critic.

“All of its screen adap­ta­tions com­bined make it the one of high­est-gross­ing fran­chises in Chi­nese cinema, de­spite mixed re­views.”

The pre­vi­ous in­stall­ments of the new fran­chise each sur­passed 1 bil­lion yuan — in 2014 and 2016, re­spec­tively — but weren’t as warmly wel­comed by the North Amer­i­can box of­fice.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Lead ac­tress Zhao Liy­ing (cen­ter, in white) and sup­port­ing ac­tresses ap­pear at an event on Dec 4 in Chang­sha to pro­mote the up­com­ing

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