SHOWBIZ> Theater & Arts
From martial arts to monkeying around
By Liu Wei (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-11-25 07:59

Zhang Jizhong is taking a break from Louis Cha's wuxia novels - but this doesn't mean there's any let-up in his grueling routine.

After he has wrapped up the TV adaptation of Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre (Yitian Tulongji), 57-year-old Zhang will focus on the pre-production of a film trilogy on Monkey King (pictured), the main character in this ancient classic, Journey to the West (Xiyouji).

"It is hard for me to surpass the audience ratings and sales my wuxia series have created," he says.

"Journey to the West is an excellent platform for me to realize a long-held dream, to talk with the world about traditional Chinese culture. America does a good job in promoting its values through the entertainment industry, so why can't we when we have so many treasures?"

Zhang says he never worries about whether global audiences accept his stories.

From martial arts to monkeying around

Monkey King is a household name in China and even in other Asian countries like Japan and South Korea. His painful transformation from stone monkey to superhero, has a universal appeal, especially among youngsters, says Zhang.

"He pursues freedom, scorns authority and learns the importance of responsibility through pain, which is understandable to all people who have experienced youth," he says. "At the same time, the fighting between him and various monsters along the journey provides ample space for kungfu scenes."

On the other hand, the story is very Chinese. Buddhist thought is everywhere in the book, which recounts the journey of a team led by a monk.

"Everybody's life is like a journey, on which we encounter various hardships," Zhang says. "But what the book says is that the biggest monster is in one's own heart. That's very typical Buddhist philosophy."

The trilogy will cost $100 million for each instalment, a number that would scare most Chinese directors. The most expensive Chinese film so far has been John Woo's Red Cliff (Chibi), which cost $80 million.

But Zhang insists that the investment is justified in order to create a picture as splendid in audio and video effects as The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. He believes that only by making a film as grand as the top Hollywood blockbusters can it be a worldwide success.

The lavish project will kick off next year and Zhang already has bigger plans in mind.

A Monkey King theme park will follow the film if it is a hit. In the park's computer-generated future look are roller coasters, theaters, fireworks, waterfalls and huge statues of the monkey.

"This won't be a Chinese Disneyland. It will be a Chinese Monkey Kingdom," he says.

(China Daily 11/25/2008 page19)