Monkey King: Quest for The Sutra is a Hong Kong/Taiwanese television series adapted from the novel of the same title. The series had Dicky Cheung reprising the role of Sun Wukong as he previously did in the 1996 adaptation. The series was first broadcast on TVB in 2002. The cast are as follows: Dicky Cheung as Sun Wukong, Edmond Leong as Tang Sanzang, Eric Kot as Zhu Bajie, and Sam Lee as Sha Wujing. The Twins (Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung) also feature prominently as heavenly fairies that either aid or hinder the main protagonists.
This adaptation is very, very loosely based on the novel and the main plot even differs or diverges greatly from the novel. Even the title itself doesn't really use the original title of "Journey to the West". The series focused on comedy and devote a huge portion of the storyline to establishing love relationships between the disciples and female characters they met during the journey.
Sun Wukong was a monkey demon whose birth was from an ancient yet magical stone egg. His charisma allowed him to become the new King of Monkeys, and he sought to enter a training school for Immortals which he gotten into by merely befriending and offering Patriarch Subhuti a banana to eat. He also befriended a Judge from Hell and the Dragon Emperor of East Sea, such that they removed his name from the "Book of Life and Death" and gave him a Magical Cudgel as a weapon respectively. He was soon summoned to heaven to become a Protector of Horses.
During his time in heaven, Sun Wukong met a senior fairy named Zilan, who is notably a significant character here who doesn't appear in the novel. She was originally a flower next to Wukong's stone egg that gained sentience. She heard a prophecy that she and Wukong will be romantically involved, and she fell in love with him and vice versa. Wukong later won a horse-racing competition and was awarded the title of "Great Sage Equal to Heaven". He also stole and ate the peaches of immortality but due to Queen Mother being a secret sympathizer, he got off relatively lightly. Good fortune doesn't last forever, and due to mischief caused by Zimei (Zilan's sister), Wukong fell further out of favour with the Jade Emperor and other deities. He surrendered after his kingdom of monkeys were mostly wiped out in the conflict. Repeated attempts to execute him failed, Wukong eventually loses his temper yet again and wrecked havoc on heaven, and was then imprisoned by Lord Buddha for 500 years. He was released to serve Tang Sanzang for his Pilgrimage to the West, and the two of them recruited the Dragon Horse, Sha Wujing, and Zhu Bajie to aid them as well.
Note this twisted adaptation summarized so far is the most faithful this series has to the novel, and when the actual journey begins the various story-plots are completely different from the novel. Even the original purpose of retrieving the scriptures has gradually evolved into some quest against a universal evil threat named Heavenly Demon (Tian Mo). Given the critical responses by the reviewers, it is easily the most reviled adaptation of Journey to the West.
Not to be mistaken with Journey to the West 1996 version. They do not share any continuity.
This series provides examples of:
- Aborted Arc:
- One notable early part of the story was the fairy Zimei being in love with Nezha, as a parallel to fairy Zilan in love with Wukong. It was quickly dropped, perhaps cut due to length reasons, after Zimei and Nezha had their memories relating to the romance erased.
- Achilles in His Tent: Sun Wukong, twice in the series. He himself chose to quit the quest instead of being forced to.
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Sha Wujing looks like a normal human and isn't ugly looking at all. This is in contrast to the novel's description of the original Wujing. Same goes with Sun Wukong, who simply looks like a human covered with long fur instead of the novel's description of an ugly demon who looks like Lei Gong (Thunder God).
- Adaptational Badass: Sun Wukong was almost never defeated in any fight shown in this series. The only exceptions are his failure to escape Lord Buddha (Which is the case for all adaptations) and his initial defeat by the final boss aka Tian Mo.
- He lost to Nezha in a fighting competition early on in the show, but in reality he threw the fight just to spite someone else.
- Outside of fights, his only other "loss" was his encounter with the Black Spider Demoness whom he let his guard down since they had a history of friendship, allowing her to incapacitate him while his back was turned. If it was an actual fight, there is little doubt he would have won.
- Adaptational Heroism:
- Sun Wukong is portrayed as a rather honorable and likable figure from his birth, who was merely misunderstood by the Heavenly deities.
- Unlike most other adaptations and the original, Sun Wukong gets numerous secret sympathizers from the Heavenly deities during his time in Heaven, namely Nezha, Queen Mother, Planet Venus, and the fairies. They had either befriended him or gave secret support in his time of difficulties.
- In the original, his first teacher Subhuti sent him away when he realized that Wukong would be a troublemaker. In this adaptation, he was never shown to be sent away.
- Most of his questionable acts like killing harmless people/demons were left out of the adaptation.
- Tang Sanzang is easily the nicest live-action incarnation of the Holy Monk ever portrayed. However, because of this, his disciples tend to walk all over him. This adaptation seemed to portray the journey as some mere road trip for the disciples.
- The original Sanzang's usage of the magical headband curse on Sun Wukong are mostly due to foolishness on Sanzang's part. This adaptation's Sanzang's usage of the magical headband curse mostly acts as a communication signal for Wukong to realize that the party is in danger. The only time it was used to discipline Wukong was when the two met for the first time and even that was played for comedy.
- He never actually forced Sun Wukong to leave the party. For the two times that Wukong was sent away, it was partly due to Wukong's refusal to serve him anymore.
- He specifically gave orders to Wukong to spare the life of a snake demoness - Twice. She had made 2 attempts to eat Sanzang only to be foiled by Wukong.
- Certain supporting characters in the series like the Bull Demon and White Bone Demoness are portrayed as less villainous when compared to their novel counterparts. Unlike the novel, Bull Demon remains a friend of Wukong while the White Bone Demoness never sought to eat Tang Sanzang.
- Sun Wukong is portrayed as a rather honorable and likable figure from his birth, who was merely misunderstood by the Heavenly deities.
- Adaptational Wimp: Zhu Bajie. While in the novel he regularly needs help from Wukong to defeat demon kings, he still does demonstrate a certain level of competence in the areas of fighting. In this adaptation, he became a complete pushover just like Sha Wujing. Even Sha Wujing appeared to be more useful in this adaptation, based on this version's great knowledge of magical artefacts.
- Adaptation Expansion: New stories that never happened in the novel replaced the bulk of the series. Most notable was Sun Wukong falling in love and in a love triangle between senior fairy Zilan and White Bone Demoness.
- Betty and Veronica: With Sun Wukong as the center!!! Fairy Zilan is Betty, while White Bone Demoness is Veronica.
- Big Eater: Zhu Bajie.
- Bigger Bad: Tian Mo, or Heavenly Demon. He's an original character that doesn't really show up in the novel. He's a universal-level threat that had Buddha, Guan Yin, and Lao Zi team up against him, with Sun Wukong and other top fighters leading the fight.
- Bittersweet Ending: Sun Wukong and Nezha successfully saved the entire universe from Tian Mo. In the aftermath, Nezha was left tearfully regretful that during his brainwashed state he had killed his own father Li Jing. Wukong finally expressed his love for Zilan and proposed marriage, but it was too late as Zilan sacrificed herself to help the heroes. In the end, Zilan was reborn as a flower while Wukong quit his post in heaven and willingly turned back into a stone egg to accompany her.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: A few examples or so.
- Nezha was corrupted by Tian Mo due to his anger against his father Li Jing for causing his mother's death. He got better in time to fight Tian Mo in the finale.
- White Bone Demoness obtains a power (By consuming a magical flower) that can bewitch males to do her bidding. She tried using her new power on Wukong so that he can slap and humiliate Zilan. Wukong turned out to be immune to her charms.
- Bull Demon King was also brainwashed in a particular plot made by the Immortals of Tiger, Elk, and Antelope Power to fight Sun Wukong, although he snapped out of it when Wukong tries the "I Know You're in There Somewhere" approach.
- Canon Foreigner: Dream Demon, Zimei, and Zilan do not exist in the novel. The Dream Demon is likely inspired by either Freddy Krueger or by the 1996 adaptation or both. There are fairies in the novel but none of them are named nor do they have any noticeable friendship with Wukong.
- Casanova Wannabe: Zhu Bajie, especially his relationship with the Spider demoness.
- Everything's Deader with Zombies: The zombie apocalypse plot, which doesn't even appear in the novel and is most likely inspired by the contemporary Zombie media entertainment trend.
- HeelFace Turn: After being spared twice by Sanzang, the Snake Demoness attempted to pay back his kindness by saving him from getting cooked alive by Six Eared Macaque, at the cost of her own life. Eventually, Six Eared Macaque himself repented as well.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Fairy Zilan and Seven Treasure Umbrella spirit in the finale.
- Informed Attractiveness: Fairy Zilan was described to be one of the most beautiful fairies on heaven.
- In Name Only: One of the biggest criticisms of the Quest for the Sutra is that the changes to the source material are often completely unnecessary. There wasn't a single story and plotline that wasn't modified and twisted to the point of unrecognizable. It says a lot about the faithfulness of this adaptation (Or lack thereof) when it made the 1996 adaptation look like the 1986, 2010 and 2011 adaptations.
- Completely new stories and plotlines replaced most of the novel's plot after all the 3 main disciples were found.
- Sun Wukong in a love triangle between senior fairy Zilan and the White Bone Demoness takes a significant portion of the series, instead of focusing on the journey itself. Do we need to say anything more?
- The protagonists' female lovers are allowed to travel with them and maintain their relationships during the Journey, which completely violates the principles of a Buddhist monk!
- The three strands of hairs that Guan Yin gave to Sun Wukong was originally meant to help him in times of great danger. In this adaptation, they had a completely different purpose, in that they represent his three stages in life (Stage of heartlessness, stage of falling in love, and finally the stage of forgetting his love), and going past each stage would have him shedding a strand. He shed all three strands by the end of the series.
- In the original story where Lord Buddha subdues Wukong after his havoc in heaven, it was done by placing a bet that Wukong can't jump out of Buddha's palm. In this adaptation, it was the reverse, where Wukong tries to keep Buddha on his palm but failed.
- Sun Wukong striking White Bone Demoness three times was left in, but the motivation for that was due to a lovers' quarrel (!!!) rather than Wukong's desire to protect his master. Not only that, Sanzang wasn't even involved here.
- Zhu Bajie AND Sha Wujing fell in love with a spider demoness and a Magical Parasol spirit respectively. Even Tang Sanzang almost looked like he fell in love too, thankfully that didn't happen.
- Zhu Bajie was supposed to be the second senior disciple and Sha Wujing the third to be recruited. In the adaptation, they just had to twist it such that Sha Wujing was the second to be recruited, and add in a scene where Sanzang judged the disciples' ranking merely based on a question he asked, so that Bajie ended up to be the second senior disciple again.
- Sha Wujing became an expert in magical artefacts, and fell in love with a powerful spirit that gained its sentience from a Magical Parasol.
- Honghaier was originally subdued by Guan Yin and became her disciple. Here, he became a disciple of Sun Wukong instead.
- In the novel, the Six-eared Macaque was a persistent impersonator of Wukong (In the original) who was subdued by Lord Buddha and killed by Wukong. In the adaptation he became an ambitious monkey demon who wants to outdo Sun Wukong in evil feats, but was quickly subdued by Wukong himself and his life was also spared.
- Many, many other examples.
- Interspecies Romance: Notable ones below.
- Sun Wukong (Monkey) with either Fairy Zilan (Flower), or White Bone Demoness (Skeleton)
- Zhu Bajie (Pig) with Spider Demoness (Spider of course)
- Sha Wujing (Former immortal) with Seven Treasure Umbrella (Umbrella of course)
- Lighter and Softer: Definitely so compared to the novel. There are loads of gags in the series, and even some of the specific deviations from the novel (E.g.: The order of recruiting the disciples) are done so for laughs. Sun Wukong was notably less mischievous and doesn't readily kill people as originally portrayed in the novel.
- Love Makes You Evil: White Bone Demoness was repeatedly spurned by Wukong. She was brainwashed by Tian Mo as a result.
- Overly Long Name: Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie, and Sha Wujing loved to recite the "long version" of their names. Sun Wukong especially.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Believe it or not, this adaptation's Tang Sanzang fits this trope much better than the original did.
- Redemption Equals Death: The Snake demoness' actions after she was spared a second time by Tang Sanzang despite attempting to eat him again.
- Ship Sinking: It looked as if Tang Sanzang was going to fall in love with Susu and vice versa. Susu then announced that she is leaving the group to pursue Buddhism elsewhere.
- Spared by the Adaptation: The Immortals of Tiger, Elk, and Antelope Power were spared, and so was the Six-Ear Macaque.
- Then again, the original plot featuring them was greatly altered here. The Bull Demon King was even involved in this story, when he wasn't supposed to be in it at all.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Sun Wukong with Zhu Bajie, of course.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Tang Sanzang gave this to Sun Wukong for killing some demons-in-disguise passing by, whom haven't even attacked them.
- Would Hit a Girl: Sun Wukong strikes White Bone Demoness three times, effectively spurning her thrice too.