Monkey King 2 finds 'plump' seductress in Gong Li

By Wang Quan and Xu Fan ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-01-08 08:15:53

Monkey King 2 finds 'plump' seductress in Gong Li

Actress Gong Li (center) will play the female lead in the blockbuster movie Monkey King 2. [Photo provided to China Daily]

As one of the most evil enchantresses in Chinese literature, White Skeleton Demon is depicted as a skinny, young beauty in the classic book Journey to the West. But in the latest Monkey King movie, the second in a series based on the novel, she is given an unconventional screen image.

In Monkey King 2, actress Gong Li, 48, plays the demon as an almost plus-size woman who tries to seduce Buddhist monk Xuanzang. Many Chinese fans have expressed their doubts online on how effective Gong will be in the role that had often be portrayed by leaner actresses.

At a recent news conference in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, Gong, an early Chinese star to draw international attention, said that she will give the audience a "surprise".

"My version will not be a cliche. If I played the demon just as in the traditional depiction, it should be regarded as my failure," Gong said, seated at the Fan Palace near the statue of the Grand Buddha on Lingshan Hill, Wuxi. The moviemakers hoped the venue would bring them good luck.

The latest in the fantasy movie series is the second in an eight-sequel film marathon that will be produced by Beijing-based Filmko Entertainment. The Chinese company has planned to release one movie twice a year.

The Monkey King: The Legend Begins hit a record at the mainland box office last year with more than 1 billion yuan ($161 million) in revenues. Monkey King 2 will be released on Feb 8, 2016, and is based on a popular episode from the original novel, in which the White Skeleton Demon, or Baigujing, desired to eat the flesh of Xuanzang and tried different ways to catch the monk.

Although some controversy has been generated over Gong playing the role, trade analysts seem to think of it as a good marketing strategy.

"It really doesn't matter if Gong fits the expected image or not," movie critic Tian Jinshuang says. The film aims for a wider audience and an international market, so Gong is the perfect choice."

Besides, "plump women" were in fashion during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), the period of the tale, he adds.

Other than Gong, the movie features a star cast playing the Buddhist priest and his three disciples. The mighty monkey king Sun Wukong is played by Hong Kong star Aaron Kwok and actor Feng Shaofeng plays Xuanzang.

"When people thought Aaron and I were discussing the script, we were actually talking about Aaron's super racers collected over the years," Feng says of the bond the two actors share.

Zhu Bajie is played by the famous comedian Xiaoshenyang, who says that he was initially worried about portraying the legendary character.

"Nevertheless I decided to go overboard and challenge the character as well as myself. It takes all of us almost 10 hours on makeup ever day, but all the effort has paid back."

Directed by Hong Kong director Cheang Pou-soi, Monkey King 2 is in production at Wuxi Studios. The 3-D epic movie's crew consists of an international production team and uses the advanced Cameron Pace Group's 3-D cameras, rarely adopted for film shoots in Asia.

Based on the special effects of the previous movie, Tian doubts if people can expect much improvement in the recent future.

"Fantasy movies in China are 'pseudo-fantasy'. To keep all the film stars presentable, they cannot break through the technical bottleneck," Tian adds.

On the other hand, Filmko Entertainment CEO Wang Haifeng promises: "We did have problems in Monkey King 1. This time the 11 producing companies and 800 staff will definitely work on improving the production."

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