Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Forgotten Gems: "The Monkey King"

Wow. It's been a very long time since I've done a 'Forgotten Gems' post. I think I need to do more. So here's one...

 Journey to the West is considered one of the 4 Great Novels of Chinese literature. Written by Wu Cheng'en in the 1590's, the 100-chapter story details a Buddhist monk's pilgrimage from China to India. The first 7 chapters tell the story of Sun Wu Kong, a monkey who comes to learn the way of Tao. Heady stuff for a children's movie. But in 1965, Shanghai Animation Film Studios simplified the story to its basest elements and produced Havoc in Heaven (aka The Monkey King)

I first remember seeing this film sometime around 1968 or so (remember kids, Uncle P is old) in the 'cafetorium' at Clara Barton Elementary School. I immediately fell in love with it. And while I know I saw it several times during my childhood, it's probably been 35 years or more since I saw it last. A precursor to Japanese Anime, The Monkey King's Taoist message was well beyond my K through 5 ken, but its basic tale of bravery and friendship struck a chord in my developing sensibilities and I count it as one of the major influences of my youth. 

The animation may be crude by today's standards, but that's not the point. Its one of the movies (among many) that made me love movies and memories of it evoke both nostalgia for a simpler time and a curiosity about the filmmaking process that never went away. Havoc in Heaven is available in a subtitled version (though I know the version I saw as a child was dubbed) on YouTube in 14 parts. As far as I know, there is no DVD or even VHS version available. Here is a Part One of the subtitled version:

I know I'll be spending at least some of my upcoming weekend watching the other 13 parts on YouTube. There have been several adaptations of this story, on film and in print, but this is the one that left an impression on my impressionable youth...

What forgotten gems do you love?

More, anon.

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