It turns out the dub-cult-classic Monkey Magic actually has some pretty deep roots. I always thought it was the product of a Japanese acid trip. Not so!
The side burned Monkey and the rotund Pigsy are so important to Chinese culture, they’re like invoking Heracles, King Arthur or Ned Kelly.
Their story is told in Journey to the West, one of the four literary classics that make up the Chinese canon (the other three are here). It follows Sun Wukong (the Monkey King) on his quest to India to claim some great texts (sutras). He’s magic of course, can transform into many different beings and each of his hairs have magical powers.
Journey to the West is also the most popular Beijing Opera (Peking Opera for all your imperialists). The tale of adventure, heroism, love, deceit and animal transformation really resonates with the audience. The iconic Beijing Opera masks are strikingly beautiful (see below).
The Journey to the West was also the inspiration for among other things, Indiana Jones and the Temple Doom, the Damon Albarn band, Gorillaz, and Dragon Ball Z.
I know this is a hasty introduction and after doing some reading on the characters and the mythology I could spend all day exalting at the feet of the Monkey King.
But instead here are some truly breathtaking images inspired by JTTW.
I attended Beijing’s modern art museum and found these floor to ceiling portraits.
It’s really shit, but have I forgotten the artist’s name and I cannot find them on the net anywhere. So I want to stress THESE IMAGES ARE NOT MINE!!!! I have included the caption that appeared next to the images below.
If you haven’t made the connection, the masks are the characters in Beijing Opera.
Monkey King: Not your average monkey, this fantastic hero came out from under a rock and can quake the heavens. Flying about fighting off ghosts and evil spirits with his deep repertoire of magic, the Monkey King quickly became a favourite of the people. He certainly carries a big stick, but is not known for walking softly…
Gorilla Gall: A powerful villain, Xing-xing Dan (Gorilla Gall), is also a flying primate who hovers about protecting his fellow thugs. The Gorilla, though keen-eyed, plays only a short role when he is forced to go home after his arm is injured by an arrow. The fairly obscure and rare character of few lines only appears in a single opera.