The many variations of Journey to the West

Ah, finally, my self-pity party is finally over and I’ve gone back to do some decent blogging. Well…try to. I told you blogging about myself will have me going all angst now, ne?

Okay, so let’s move on.

Today I’d like to blog about a novel I read called Journey to the West, written by Wu Cheng’en about a monk called Tripitaka aka Tang Sanzhang/Tang Xuazhang and his three disciples – the monkey king aka Sun Wukong (or Goku), Zhu Baije/Cho Hakkai the Pig (although he was a deity before being reincarnated as a half-pig, half hu…hu.. humanoid, er…person. He fights with a rake. That’s enough), Sandy or Friar Sand/Sha Wujing, a deity-turned-cannibal who lived in the bottom of a lake and finally, the white horse, or Yulong Saitaizhi who was originally meant to be a dragon prince…. But somehow he became a horse. I can’t remember why. But anyway, together they travel all the way to the west in search of holy scriptures while Tripitaka is being targeted by all sorts of hungry demons all wanting a taste of his holy flesh.

I think a difference between western and asian culture and their perspective towards scary things/demons/monsters is that the western audience loves a creepy monster with claws and teeth that terrorises people whereas asian audiences have malevolent demons/spirits of living creatures and even objects who often have underlying purposes/backgrounds embedded in their culture. It’s kind of hard to explain… I don’t know about you, but I really like this stuff. I find it highly imaginative and unique 🙂

It’s also what got me into the wuxia category. Forget Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon!  I find these TV series more action-packed and far more interesting (but that’s just my opinion).

The reason I’m writing about this is because the recent remake has been released and my sister has been downloading episodes and forcing me to watch a few. I don’t really understand it but I’ve tried to read the subtitles. So far I half know what’s going on, and half don’t know what’s going on. It’s rather awful to watch something that way. We’ve seen quite a lot of versions of Journey to the West. We’ve seen versions from Taiwan and Hong Kong, and even a movie version starring Stephen Chow (he was in Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle) and then there are also Japanese versions, although the Japanese versions are variations I have heard about such as Saiyuki, an anime –

— and finally, we have Shinsetsu Saiyuki, an otome game where you play as Tripitaka (who is a girl, not a guy) and can pursue a romantic relationship with her disciples… yes, even with Piggy, who is portrayed as a blonde, and somewhat camp-looking pretty boi.

And Journey to the West has even appeared in public television!

For the Beijing Olympics, Monkey was used in a promotional advert. Gorillaz, anyone?

The first version of Journey to the West I saw was when I was really young… about 4 years old. I didn’t understand any of it but I remember some of the moments – yeah, the scary moments, because I thought that Journey to the West was SCARY. There was something eerie about it.

Is he wearing lipstick?

Although… we watched it recently and I just laughed. I didn’t think it was scary at all now that I understood what was going on and why. I think it’s loyal to the book but…hardly anything happens in this version. There was so much glitter and eerie lights and tinfoil-looking costumes. And Tripitaka wore lipstick…his lips were so shiny throughout the series…(see photo to right)

The second Journey to the West I watched was made in 1996… or was it 98(?) by TVB. It was far more kid-friendly and the entertainment value was off the charts. It was full of laughs and comical moments and even a soundtrack to boot. A recent re-watch and I thought it was the most entertaining (though not completely accurate) version. It remained loyal to some aspects, such as the appearance of the following characters – White Bone Demon or Skeleton Demon and how she appeared to the group under 3 human guises, all of which Wukong killed to protect his Master. Then there were the Spider demons from Gossamer cave and their interesting web-shooting abilities… The Bull Demon King and his wife, the human Princess Iron Fan… or Iron Fan Princess…and their firebreathing child…

The only image I could find about Journey to the West 1996

One word of advice: Don’t watch the sequel. It was quite horrendous.

The third adaption I came across was the otome game. I’ve never played it but I found a review to find that they’ve turned Journey to the West into a romance. Tripitaka was indeed a girl who could either go with Wukong. Or Piggy/Hakkai. Or Sandy. And even the horse…

….It was interesting but I find it odd… It came to me quite a bit of a shock to find one of the most famous and historical novels of all time had become a dating simulation.

So what’s this movie edition starring Stephen Chow, you say? It was split into 2 parts (like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and 2), and the first part was about Pandora’s Box… although it was really just a time travelling box that used the powers of the full moon. It was about the monkey king who had rebelled against his Master and reincarnated into a human, losing his memories as the monkey king and leaving behind his master and old grudges that still had to be settled, including a marriage proposal that never went underway with the White Bone Demoness who was somehow sisters with the spider demoness.

UPDATE 15TH OCTOBER: People have been wanting to see a picture of a spider demoness. Here is one:

One of the most interesting appearances of the white bone demon I have seen

It’s quite complicated to explain here (even I had a hard time trying to keep up), but I found Part 2 more interesting because Pigsy and Sandy made their appearances as they try to convince human monkey king that he is…uh…well, the monkey king and that they still had to continue on with their journey to the west. And who could ever forget when Tripitaka sang ‘Only you’ to the monkey king to convince him to confront his responsibilites?? xDD

I haven’t seen much of the newest version of Journey to the West, to be honest. The only episode we saw in full detail was the one with the white bone demon. My sister is interested in finding the episodes with the spider demons and the Jade Rabbit. We tried to refresh our memories about which order they appear in the series although when we popped in Journey to the West 1986 into the DVD and watched the one with the Jade Rabbit… well, let’s just say I want my those 45 minutes spent watching the episode BACK.

Another variation of the white bone demon in the recent remake 2011

Anyhoo, Journey to the West is considered one of the Four great classical peices of literature, with important lessons about life and celestial bureacracy (as Wikipedia puts it). And for definite, we may see even more remakes in the future.

I also watched the most recent version Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013) in which we see a young, pre-monk Tripitaka as a demon hunter who tries to help demons turn a new leaf using the 200 Nursery Rhymes. He meets Friar Sand/Sandy, Pigsy/Hakkai and Monkey King in different ways. For example, Sandy is a giant fish demon terrorising a small village in order to extract revenge.

Pigsy disguises himself as a handsome owner of an Inn where the specialty dish is ‘roasted pig’. Sorry I can’t explain much, because it’ll ruin the entire movie for you if you are interested. This new movie was slightly darker and explored demons in a much more interesting way compared to the other Journey to the West(s) I had seen where the demons were beautified and glorified.

In the movie, people get killed, eaten and maimed at the hands of Sandy, Pigsy and Monkey respectively. We sort of come to understand then why Tripitaka took them as disciples in order to purge the evil from them, and in to travel all the west to get the scriptures, as an act of redemption.

WARNING! weird pictures ahead lol.



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