Swinging into the future

By Wang Kaihao ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-01-28 08:55:03
Swinging into the future

Zhang Jinlai, 57, better known as Liu Xiao Ling Tong, mimics a monkey's facial expressions. Zhang is a fourth-generation monkey opera performer in his family.[Photo by Jiang Dong/ China Daily]

"Performing styles may evolve but certain things remain the same," he says.

"A 1986 TV series may be not be great in terms of technology, but I guess the reason it is still popular among kids today is that it reflects Chinese life."

For Zhang, Sun Wukong's story represents a grassroots hero's progress as a result of his perseverance and personal struggle. With its encouragement of teamwork and optimism, it is easy for the story to find resonance with the younger generation today.

Nevertheless, he decries the adjustments made to the original storyline in recent screen productions based on Journey to the West to match modern aesthetics.

"What I'm afraid of most is that kids today will ask me why Sun Wukong doesn't have a girlfriend," he says, smiling with a slightly embarrassed look.

"No matter how Journey to the West is presented, a line has to be drawn: The heroes should be clearly distinguishable from the monsters."

Zhang says he cannot bear to see some adapted versions that even have a monster lover for Sun Wukong.

"When you don't spend enough time understanding Sun Wukong's spirit and the original image, how can you be called creative?" he asks expressing sadness about the tendency to stray from the basics.

Speaking of the future, Zhang is concerned about who will follow him because he has no son, and only has a daughter. However, he is open-minded about finding a suitable candidate to take over.

"The monkey opera is not surnamed Zhang. It belongs to humanity," he says.

"The new Monkey King has to be smart, interested in traditional Chinese culture. And, well, he cannot be too fat."

But before realizing his plan to begin a TV talent show to look for a successor globally, Zhang feels it is better to promote Sun Wukong's story overseas first.

So, when he recently worked with beverage giant Pepsi to release a six-minute micro film, which is also an advertisement, he received mixed feedback, especially as he has not done domestic commercial advertisements for many years now.

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