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Latest Monkey King movie to explore female-ruled kingdom

By Xu Fan | China Daily | Updated: 2016-12-08 07:39

Latest Monkey King movie to explore female-ruled kingdom

Lead actress Zhao Liying (center, in white) and supporting actresses appear at an event on Dec 4 in Changsha to promote the upcoming The Monkey King 3. [Photo provided to China Daily]

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 16th-century 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 Kingdom of Women, where Xuan Zang is tempted by its empress.

He's torn between the monarch's proposal and monastic propriety in 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.


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