Diversity Aboveground: Monkey King’s Feat

Sep 12, 2015

The Monkey King

Despite the increasing prevalence of imported entertainment from Hollywood, two of China’s most successful films this year were Chinese productions. Monkey King: Hero is Back aka Xi you ji zhi da sheng gui lai became China’s most successful animated release ever, beating out the previous record holder, Kung Fu Panda 2. Monster Hunt aka zhuōyāojì is the second most successful live action film in Chinese history, second only to Furious 7. What are these films? What makes them so special? Will they ever be seen outside China?

The Monkey King first appeared in the 16th century Chinese classic, Journey to the West. Many different versions of his story have followed but he’s a Trickster god of incredible strength and magical powers who was imprisoned by Buddha and/or other gods.

In the newest film, a small boy, Tangseng, has to flee their village overrun by monsters and stumbles onto a cave where he accidentally releases the Monkey King from his imprisonment 500 years later. The Monkey King helps Tangseng and the girl he’s protecting.

Tangseng and his charge

The film has been criticized for being confusing unless you’re already familiar with Journey to the West. However, it’s the animation that’s impressing film fans overseas. The film is all computer animation, not that much different from Shrek or Hoodwinked! Cory Edwards, Hoodwink‘s director and writer, is listed as a creative consultant on this film which has more of a western feel than other Chinese productions. Even though it’s a story of gods, monsters and death, almost everything seems drawn and colored to be its utmost adorable. The director, Tian Xiao Peng. admitted that “We used our own traditional stories to resonate with our audiences’ emotions, and technically we tell the story by means of the West.”

Monkey King: Hero is Back is a film that most believed would never be finished and certainly not released. The film was first commissioned before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. However, the financial investors insisted on script changes. Tian and his team refused to make the changes so the funding was pulled. Over the next six years, they would spend their own finances to make the film. Then, through Chinese versions of Kickstarter, the production team raised enough money for the film to be finished. Contributors who gave 100,000 Yuan had their child’s names placed in the credits.

Monkey King, Tengseng and charge.

Even though the equivalent of 15,675 US dollars sounds like a lot, none of the money in the film’s budget was left for advertising or marketing. This was almost a blessing. Instead, Monkey King: Hero is Back had celebrities endorsing the film on their social media. Users on Wechat shared information about the film with other users. Wechat is a mobile messaging service with 500 million users.

Despite earning 148.7 million dollars in China and having a writer for an English adaptation listed on IMDB, there are no plans to release it outside of China except for a showing at the DC Chinese Film Festival 2015 in Washington, D.C. on September 25th. Perhaps a worldwide Kickstarter is needed?

Just hunting monsters...

Monster Hunt began as a desire by Raman Hui to return to his homeland and make an animated film in China. Hui’s had a career in entertainment that spans almost 25 years from animating Waldo C. Graphic in Muppet*vision 3D! to Character Designer/Supervising Editor on Shrek to Co-Director on Shrek 3. Instead of an animated film, producer Bill Kong asked him to make a live action film with computer generated graphics.

Like Monkey King: Hero is Back, Monster Hunt is loosely inspired by traditional Chinese folklore. In this film, monsters and humans are mortal enemies although the monsters have a complex culture that includes a very pregnant queen and warring factions. When she’s murdered, two humans take charge of her offspring, Wuba. There might be some MPreg in between…you know, the usual. Naturally, one of the humans is a bounty hunter and the other hides an ancient family secret. Plus, there are lots and lots of computer generated monsters of all sorts along with Wuba who’s like a cross between a Chia pet, Oh and that alien infant from the first Men in Black.

Wuba

Monster Hunt broke about every single Chinese film record that China had. It went on to make 379.5 million dollars in its home country. Limited showings in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam made another 3 million dollars. The distribution company Filmrise has acquired the North American distribution rights and plans to release it in early 2016.

UPDATE:

As of September 12, 2015, Monster Hunt has now overtaken Furious 7 to become China’s largest grossing film ever.

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Regina and Maleficent and foreplay?

So, this happened at Dragoncon…

“Do you think Regina and Maleficent had a thing/relationship?”

This question was asked towards Kristin Bauer who portrays Maleficent on Once Upon a Time. Bauer replied, “I think there’s something going on. I love Lana (Parrilla), so that’s what came across in filming the scenes and we just put that into the characters. And also, those scenes were so pivotal I felt, for Maleficent. She was pretty much done and that young girl saw something in her. We just kept rolling with that relationship that we felt personally and I thought made sense with the scene as well, yes.”

Of course, some could claim that this is nothing more than two actresses with wishful thinking. However, the creators of the series, Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, have described themselves as being very engaged in every aspect of the series. Horowitz described the editing process on Twitter as “super involved. We have brilliant editors who we work intimately with. Every shot is agonized over.” With that kind of care, wouldn’t they have corrected the actress’ character motivations if they were incorrect? They’ve had four years to change it.

Mulan and Aurora's last meeting

In March, Bauer Tweeted to a fan who asked about their relationship, “well, this is ABC so i wont be kissing @LanaParrilla on Once.” The only other LGBTQA character on Once Upon a Time is Mulan. Her love for Aurora went unrequited and she hasn’t had a love interest since. Then, there’s the lack of LGBTQA characters on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Yes, 8 PM was once known as “family hour” but Modern Family often has new episodes or reruns shown at 8 PM. Why are homosexual relationships okay at 8 PM in sitcom form or unrequited or implicit but not allowed to be explicit? What’s wrong with a kiss?

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Who would you want Mulan’s love interest to be? Maybe it could Merida who debuts this season.

Comparing DC with Marvel will require a bit more research. In the meantime…

Next week will look at some of the most diverse premieres for the new fall TV season.

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