Gong Hei Fat Choi!
Yes, it’s that time of year again, when the Cafe pays cinematic homage to Chinese New Year and the zodiac animal it represents. This year it couldn’t be easier…drum roll…I give you…
Or Sun Wukong as he is more properly called, the mischievous, irrepressible Monkey King of Chinese legend, who accompanied the monk Tripitaka on his journey to the west to collect the Buddhist Sutras and bring them back to China. A deeply loved legendary figure, Monkey was born from a stone, had incredible powers and played havoc with Heaven and The Jade Emperor, by gobbling up the ‘peaches of immortality (I’ve just realised a link with Kung Fu Panda here) and getting trapped under a mountain by Buddha, who actually got a bit sick of him too.
Naturally he has been the subject of many a movie and TV show – but the big question is, who played him best? Admittedly, the Cafe hasn’t seen all of his cinematic incarnations, but we can list our top three favourites, can’t we? So here we go…
1: Masaaki Sakai
For many fans, still the man most loved and associated with the Monkey King. In the 60s he was a singer with the Japanese rock group The Spiders (no relation to the Beatles, I’m sure). From 1978-1980 he was the star of the TV show known as Saiyuki (Journey to the West) in Japan and Monkey Magic in the modern west. The Cafe will always regard him as Number One, but Number Two actually makes our hearts flutter…
2: Jet Li
He just looks so darn cute with those blond locks and that cheeky grin in The Forbidden Kingdom and if Sakai hadn’t got there first, he would be the King of Monkey Kings. It was also a chance for Li to unleash his brilliant sense of humor, which we so rarely see except in interviews. (Look them up – he is so self-deprecating and always having s laugh at himself).
3: Donnie Yen
The Monkey King is a gorgeous movie, with two brilliant stars – Donnie Yen as The Monkey King and Chow Yun Fat as the Jade Emperor. It was an unusual role for serious action man Mr Yen, but he carried it off with aplomb, as he usually does. Chow Yun Fat is simply a wonder, and looks amazing in his empirical robes.
So Welcome, Year of the Monkey, and may you be as fun and playful as your many screen incarnations!