Uproar in Heaven redux
Updated: 2012-07-20 07:59
By The World of Chinese (China Daily)
To stop the rebellious monkey, the Jade Emperor sends General Li with two of his best soldiers to face Sun Wukong, including Nezha (right). Provided to China Daily
Is he god, warrior or simply a naughty monkey?
The Monkey King's conflicting personas are part of what makes the character so special, but Sun Wukong (孙悟空) in Uproar in Heaven 3D (大闹天宫 Dà Nào Tiāngōng) definitely has more of the latter. After all, this is a feature-length cartoon.
The protagonist of Wu Cheng'en's (吴承恩) classic Chinese novel Journey to the West (西游记), Sun Wukong is a brave yet mischievous monkey assigned to protect the monk Xuanzang during his pilgrimage to India.
Thanks to an array of TV dramas, movies, comics and videogames, his adventures are well known in China, across all generations, particularly those who grew up watching the 1980s TV series (with its epic theme tune) starring Liuxiaolingtong.
Uproar in Heaven 3D is a remake of another visualization of the Monkey King story, the original Uproar in Heaven, which was considered a landmark picture in the potted history of Chinese animated film. The original Uproar focused on the first seven chapters of the epic novel, covering the birth of this miraculous monkey and his rise to become the monk's divine protector.
For producer Wan Laiming (万籁鸣), bringing what he considered to be one of the greatest Chinese narratives to life through animation was a long-cherished dream and perhaps the pinnacle of his life's work.
Wan, who pioneered Chinese animated film in 1941, was only able to begin work on Uproar after he became the main cartoonist and director of the newly established Shanghai Animation Film Studio (上海美术电影制片厂 Shànghǎi Měishù Diànyǐng Zhìpiànchǎng). The two-hour feature recounts the adventures of the Monkey King before his Journey to the West, when he challenged the powers of heaven and defeated an army of 100,000 celestial warriors.
Upon its completion, Wan traveled the world and collected numerous awards at film festivals, helping Uproar become the flagship work of China's animation industry.
Almost 50 years later, this year's updated version gives the animation a facelift using modern special effects technology, the most obvious improvement being its rendering in 3D.
The new version features a slightly longer edit that stays true to the spirit of the original film, as well as a new soundtrack that combines the original's traditional Chinese opera arrangements with a symphonic score.
Most importantly, the 3D remake introduces all new voices and a stellar cast to play them, including film stars Yao Chen and Chen Daoming. The voices of famous directors Chen Kaige and Feng Xiaogang also make an appearance, in homage to Sun Wukong and Wan Laiming.
The story is well-known but never grows old in the retelling. Spawned from a stone egg, Sun Wukong quickly rises through the ranks to become king of the monkeys. Though playful, he is fearless and strong, so strong that to find a worthy weapon, he must dive to the depths of the ocean. Undaunted, he says:
"Me, old Sun, up to the sky or down to the earth: there's nowhere I can't go".
ǎn Lǎo Sūn shàngtiān rù dì, wú suǒ bùnéng, nǎ li yǒu bùnéng qù de dìfāng.
Arriving in the deep, he steals the pillar supporting the sky vault in the Dragon Palace from the Dragon King of the East Sea (东海龙王 Dōnghǎi lóngwáng). This becomes his legendary weapon, also known as the "As you will" (如意金箍棒 rúyì Jīngūbàng), a magical golden staff weighing 36,000 jin (18,000 kg) that can be transformed into almost any size imaginable.
The furious Dragon King (voiced by director Chen Kaige) is powerless to stop him and can only report his misdeeds to the Jade Emperor (玉帝 Yù Dì):
"Today the evil monkey Sun Wukong, for no reason, disturbed the Dragon Palace and took away a treasure of the seas with his sorcery. The Palace will never be at peace until he is eliminated. I hope your majesty will take action".
Jīn yǒu yāo hóu sūnwùkōng mánhèng wúlǐ, dà nào lónggōng, bà qǔ wǒ zhènhǎi zhī bǎo. Cǐ hóu yāo fǎ shéndà, ruò bù chùqú, lónggōng yǒng bùdé ānníng, wàng wànsuì wèi lǎochén zuò zhǔ.
The mighty Jade Emperor decides to recruit the monkey in order to control him. Sun is lured in and appointed Guardian of the Imperial Stables, but soon realizes the Emperor's intentions and makes a swift exit. Some of Heaven's strongest soldiers are sent to stop the rebellious Sun, but he easily overcomes them.
Later, Sun is enticed to guard the Heavenly Garden (蟠桃园 Pántáo Yuán), where the fruits of immortality grow, but the monkey again realizes he has been duped by the emperor:
"Old Jade Emperor, you have cheated me, the Old Sun, again and again; we're irreconcilable"
Yù dì lao er, nǐ sān fān liǎng cì qīyā ǎn lǎo sūn. ǎn yǔ nǐ shìbùliǎnglì.
The Monkey King continues to cause chaos in heaven, stealing all the delicacies and wine from the Empress Imperial Banquet, and the Pills of Immortality from Taishang Laojun, the divine personification of Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu (voiced by Feng Xiaogang).
It is enough to push the emperor over the edge, and he bellows at his general:
"I order you to lead an army of one hundred thousand warriors to arrest the Monkey and bring him here to me".
Lìng nǐ dài shí wàn tiān bīng tiān jiāng, dìng yào zhuōná yāo hóu jiàn wǒ.
Sun fends off even this onslaught, but after a beautifully designed battle is finally captured through the wily magic tricks of Lao Tzu.
Sun fumes at the deceit:
"You can only sneak up from behind, stabbing me in the back - you trivial man!"
Nǐmen bèidì xiàshǒu, ànjiàn shāng rén, suàn bùdé shénme hǎohàn!
Yet even when sentenced to death and pummeled with a variety of choice weapons, Sun remains unbroken. Lao Tzu then tries to incinerate him in his furnace, but it is useless. Sun escapes the flames unscathed and takes revenge by destroying the Palace of Heaven, before returning to be embraced by a land of cheering monkeys.
This rebellious clash with the authorities in heaven and subsequent welcoming by the clamoring masses has inspired commentators to draw comparisons between Sun Wukong and various figures from Chinese history.
But the Monkey King is first and foremost a timeless character, and as such remains an inspiring model; Uproar in Heaven is a manifesto for all those strong and intrepid spirits that desire to stand out and make themselves heard. Uproar in Heaven 3D is fundamentally a commercial endeavor, but might help to inspire interest in the tale among younger generations.
However, it is not the first reinterpretation of the movie. A high-budget remake complete with whizz-bang computer graphics was also released in 1996, and there are a variety of plans in the pipeline to bring more of Sun Wukong's adventures to TV and the big screen in the near future.
Still, one of the peculiar values of the 3D edition is its integration of tradition with innovation, past and future, as demonstrated by the black and white stills of the original production work that roll during the final credits as a tribute to Wan and his crew. But despite all the technological trickery and modern re-styling, the original version from the sixties is the only big-screen rendering that, like the Monkey King himself, will live long in the memory.
With its lavish colors, stuttering animation, operatic soundtrack and visionary imagery, it has the charm and appeal of that old doll or teddy bear you used to love as a kid. It also feels like it was created when animation was new and exciting, and you can feel the fun the team had in bringing one of China's favorite stories to a brand new medium.
Courtesy of The World of Chinese, www.theworldofchinese.com