A must read, if you don't already know ...

Written by Funn Lim

"But those who wants a JTTW series will be severely disappointed. Wukong seemed out of character, Pig never changed in character, the Buddhas were strange and I find some storyline offensive and it didn't have the spirit of JTTW. I won't rush to rent or buy this one."


2009 (I think)

Mainland China

There is something not quite right with the new Journey To The West adaptation from Mainland China called Pilgrimage To The West. So many not quite right that I can't quite list them all so if I sound like I am rambling, that is because I am.

First and foremost, the Master seems rather friendly with his disciples, even taking a bath with them as they reflected back their experiences in the journey like 4 best friends in a tub, except 4 different tubs. I find that very odd because in all other adaptations that I have watched (so far, I admit about 3) the Master do keep a distance from his disciple. He is ultra serious, never lie but forced to do so often by his disciples for the greater good and often conduct himself with the greatest dignity, and his disciples treating him with utmost respect, like a son to a father, a very honoured father. So to see him in a tub chatting like some slumber party is very very odd.

Then there's the rush of all female demons wanting to marry him, male demons wanting to eat him. That is usual, except I kept thinking Master didn't look one bit offended when touched by the female demons at all. In fact he seems expressionless, rather enjoying it. In most versions he is often pushed and persuaded to do something contrary to his beliefs, including fake marriages but this one seems quite happy to go along with the plan.

But the worst had to be the conduct of Buddha himself. That is near blasphemy and I don't care what the book says, it didn't seem right.

First of, when they reached India and the place to collect the sutras, I thought it was the end. The journey they said 14 years which I read is true although the book(s) covered 9 of those years only. But it wasn't the end. Buddha first said that the unwritten sutras are the sutras but since many can't understand that, the monk and disciple will bring back the written sutras and spread to China. So He ordered the expensive and rare and honoured and holy sutras to be given to the Monk which the monk went to collect only to be told "These sutras are rare and expensive. Took us a long time to create them ourselves and to just give them to you, that will be a loss to us. So what have you to give us?" so asked Buddha's disciple. And I was like shocked! WHAT?! Corruption within Buddha's company so to speak? That must be fake but it was darn real. So monk gave up his golden bowl, took the sutras and went before Buddha. Weird thing is not only did Wukong did not say one word of that corruption, he later even said it was reasonable since they took a long time to collect the sutras! Eh! That's not the Wukong I know! The Wukong I know will make a fuss to Buddha since his master was bullied into giving his golden bowl. The Wukong I know will ask what then is the purpose of the travel to collect sutras that they have to pay for! It wasn't even part of the test mind you! And then Buddha said to Monk that only those who are strict vegetarians that have not killed or eaten meat or whatnots can open the sutras to read and our Monk like eagerly nodded and said yeah yeah yeah. No! Of course not! Buddha ain't that selfish and so rank minded! He ain't so snobbish! Worst to come! Monk said nothing! Wouldn't that be against every principle of his learnings and teachings? Nope, not one word. Technically even Wukong can't open the sutras. And Monk left without asking Buddha to release Wukong from his servitude or give enlightment to his 2 other disciples since journey is completed!

Guess what? Journey isn't completed yet! 8 more days to  go, 1 more test to go and they're thrown into the wild for one final test. Since they already got the sutras which they had to pay for, answer me this; what then is the point of 1 more test? Is this version trying to tell us beaurecracy and red tape still exists and is alive and well even amongst Buddhas?

And dear Guanyin, she said nothing. In fact I thought maybe the demons pretended to be Guanyin and all and playing a trick on them but nope, that's Guanyin. And Guanyin looked like any other goddess frankly.

And I will not forget the interesting story of Princess Paro and her imitator. The problem with this story is after it is done and over with, we have to endure some more to learn the background of the imitator. Why? Why not just say it earlier and finish with it? That imitator is a rabbit on the moon, under the care and supervision of Chang Er. And Chang Er even gave orders to the 3 disciples on what to do as she flew around beautifully. Sorry, but it was as if Chang Er was on the moon on a vacation. I thought in one of the versions she was on the moon as a punishment?

Whilst I am ok with Pig, but after goddamn 14 years surely he must be on good terms with Wukong by now and not backstab him? Only Wujing seems quite ok, seems in character as a simple minded man albeit a hot looking one in my personal opinion. Wukong really had me wondering what is wrong with him? The whole entire corruption scene was weird, to have Wukong not make one fuss at all is weird. Most weird of all sometimes he is just monkey and sometimes too human, the performance is inconsistent. The most disappointing of all is his golden fighting pole. It was just a pole. No personality, no life. But then maybe just for the last 6 episodes, probably earlier it was alive and well.

Whilst I enjoyed some part of the story, I feel this is not a true adaptation, not in spirit anyway since I haven't finished the book(s). It can't be the worst since that Mainland China Dicky Cheung with Edmond Leung as the monk ranks as the worst but this can't be any good either. Everybody seems so heartless, so businesslike, Buddha seems un-Buddha, Guan Yin too hands off and too distant and the Monk, he's like sleepwalking with a permanent smile and the rest aren't themselves. The fighting scenes like it's opening theme goes on so long, I finished one bowl of rice before the fighting stops or the song finishes. The more I watch this, the more I appreciate TVB's version which is true in spirit and I went away from that series entertained, enlightened and definitely in deeper understanding of Buddhism than a story about Buddha. In truth, TVB's version is very spiritual, despite the comedy and the cuteness. Let's not even talk about the original JTTW China adaptation. This Pilgrimage To The West, the title itself is wrong. It isn't Pilgrimage, strictly speaking. But that's nitpicking. My problem with it is I went away with nothing; I learnt nothing; I got back nothing. It is just a story but no more than that and even that the story is well started but badly ended.

The acting is strange. Generally they're ok except spoilt by dubbing but frankly the monk... he lacked that wisdom and gravitas to play this role. Being handsome is not the only criteria, it is one of the criterias! He just seem like a man in a robe instead of a monk who went through centuries of being monks in all his reincarnations. Joan Chen was terrible as Guanyin and she looked like she was struggling to stand still. Buddha was shockingly young! I can't remember the rest except the girl who played Nezha was good and Chen Derong was good. The costume were good, the scenery a winner but then that is China's credit and not the director's. I was sort of impressed they found Indians to play Indian guards in I suppose border of India but in actual fact still in China?

It is just one weird adaptation. Hopefully the 2011 adaptation will fare better, at least in the spirit of the story. By looking at the pictures, I must admit Wukong looks scary. Maybe he is meant to be scary, at least this is a departure from the previous adaptations. And I hope there will be live sound recording. I am tired of hearing dubbed voices which somehow has a lot of "Eh eh eh eh eh eh eh" sounds for god knows why with the girls with high pitched voices and the men all sounding very masculine. For once I must take my hat off to TVB for making JTTW accessible, fun and a deeply spiritual experience. And Kong Wah is the BEST monk with Mimi Kung so far in JTTW the best Guanyin. Dicky Cheung made Wukong cute and lovable even if kinda dangerous who showed change from ep 1 till the end but yes, Liu Xiao Ling Tong owns Wukong. No doubt about that.

[UPDATES] The last episode was broadcast on 14.10.2010 and it was the weirdest ending ever. I find myself not really finding much faults in performances generally, although some are terrible but it's the story or rather the presentation of the story. JTTW basically has the same core and elements as any remakes, updates, etc. But this one, the ending was very badly written. It would show they went home to China, pondering how to spread the words of the Sutras which is ok, but most of these scenes which is supposed to be very emotional reunions like the Monk with his sworn brother the Emperor of his rather grown up disciples or people they have rescued before or Wukong with his family and clan. However they just kept talking and emphasises the Monk has traveled 10,800 miles (may not be miles but you know, the distance) and all I could think of was "Oh come on, after 10,800 miles, for heaven's sake, let them sit down and then talk!". In fact, the monk didn't look like he went through hell for 14 years. Hardly any time passed at all on his face. He should be thinner, looked like he suffered and basically look older. He didn't. And then the Monk had to go back to India and to get their rewards. I was thinking why go back and forth? What is the significance of that? And here comes the worst part because first of Buddha was badly portrayed and when their rewards were given, as in promotion, etc I felt rather empty. I don't feel involved with that scene and I was telling my sister why; TVB's JTTW 2 may have been god awful, it at least stayed on the right path and represented the story well. The emphasis was not on getting promotion, as this China production spent precious minutes just to show all that but rather like the sifu in TVB version said; the journey was about garnering life's experiences, that being the true teaching of the sutras. I agree. And their ending didn't really drag on with the rewards scene and in restrospect I appreciated the brevity. In this current series, it was darn boring. And the final scene was not an emotional good bye between the dragon horse (yes, in every JTTW adaptation, they will forget about the horses) or disciples and the Monk but just well, moving on. 14 years together and the sifu never looked at them and feel teary eyed. And last scene was Wukong going back to find I suppose his original sifu/teacher and then finally to Faguo Shan to be with his clan and family. And that was the final scene. I felt very detached and I thought the entire series being told the way it was told in the last 2 episodes did the earlier episodes great injustice. It simply didn't feel like JTTW, it felt like any other series.

But I admire the actors' dedication. The last bit showed the NGs and the actor playing Wukong had a tough time. He did the stunts himself, which includes flying around and he hit the wall, he hit the roof, he hit every. And the way he had to do sommersaults whilst on wire seemed so dangerous, I was fearing he looked like he was about to snap his neck several times! Also interesting was he looked mighty pissed when he couldn't get things right; very Wukong of him to throw temper tantrum, not at others but at himself and he even threw the pole roughly onto the floor one time! But again I admire his dedication to his art. It is not easy playing Wukong and he was ok but he would have been helped with a better coherent script. Even the ladies were having a tough time, Chen Derong doing her own stunts, funny moments like forgetting scripts, etc was really funny. Even the actor playing the monk, Vincent Chan, handsome brother of Kelly Chan had a scary moment when he was tied to a pole or something, dropped into the river and looked like he could have drowned and be looked almost panicking and quickly the guys came and pulled him up. I don't deny their dedication, but the script was poor. Vincent Chan was worse. But the scenery was beautiful.

Any JTTW fan would probably want to see a new adaptation, and I suspect liberties have been taken with the story as well so those who read the book may wish to compare and contrast. But in the end this series didn't feel like JTTW to me. It felt like a series about supernatural beings and if you see it that way, despite the long unending dialogues, the dubbing which irritated me or some poor acting, you may enjoy this. But those who wants a JTTW series will be severely disappointed. Wukong seemed out of character, Pig never changed in character, the Buddhas were strange and I find some storyline offensive and it didn't have the spirit of JTTW. I won't rush to rent or buy this one. I'd save my money for the original adaptation or TVB version if TVB ever bothered to release the full episodes instead of butchering it to fit a number of VCDs for maximum profit. Now I am eager to watch the 2011 adaptation because I am sure the cinematography would be excellent but I suspect yet again the director may just go off tangent when it comes to the story. But at least stay true to the spirit. Pilgrimage To The West failed miserably in that department.

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  1. I like Edmond Leung has the monk. That version might be too far removed from Buddhist teaching and heavy on romance, but, I think Edmond Leung played the monk very well. He looks very gentle and kind. Way better than Vincent Chen.

  2. It's not about gentle or kind but wisdom. He doesn't look like he can teach or lead 3 much older beings and he isn't good looking, doesn't look wise. Vincent Chan had the look but none the talent.

  3. Isn't the distance supposed to be 108,000 li? It was 十万八千里, but not so sure if li is equivalent to miles

  4. Yes Sehseh, indeed Li and I did some googling using that chinese word and it says 1 li is 500 metres.That is quite a distance. And in miles is "li has generally been only about a third as long as the mile"


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