If sometime around 1979 you happened to walk past a group of nine year old boys in Britain calling each other ‘pooftah’ in outrageous Chinese accents, running amok with broom handles and blowing on their waving hands then it was sometime past six o’clock on a Friday.
Though I’m inspired as much now by other parts of the world it was China that first infiltrated my travel dreams and I think I’ve finally nailed down the reason why. It is Monkey’s fault.
Based on the 16th century Chinese book Journey to the West, Monkey is the Japanese TV adaptation of the story of a Buddhist monk sent by the Emperor of China to fetch a set of sacred scripts from India in the 7th century. Eccentrically dubbed into English the show became a cult hit in Britain, New Zealand and Australia.
Charged with protecting the young monk Tripitaka from various monsters and demons were Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy, each a monster themselves booted out of heaven for various transgressions.
Monkey wasn’t a voluntary traveller. On the contrary, he would take any chance to flee from the long road ahead and fly away on his magic cloud (summoned by blowing on his waving hand). Tripitaka’s prayers forced his return by painfully shrinking a magic band around his head.
Each episode tended to follow the same formula. In between some cod Chinese philosophy Monkey and pals would whine about how far they had to walk and trade insults with each other before pitching up at the 7th century equivalent of a backpacker’s hostel in a remote village invariably owned by a vampire or a wicked dog woman.
“The Jade Emperor was visiting his ‘good friend’ the Star goddess Vega, on, erm, ‘business matters.”
There would be lots of sexual innuendo that went over the heads of most of the prepubescent audience, Pigsy would sniff a woman’s clothing at some point and the show would end with a mass Kung Fu brawl against whichever demons had tried to eat Tripitaka that week.
Our heroes are:
“I fought dat Buddha waz a fella?”
The funkiest monkey that ever popped, the irrepressible title character steals immortality and rebels against heaven. Loving nothing more than a fight the Monkey King is imprisoned for 500 years under a mountain and press ganged onto the pilgrimage for pissing on Buddha’s fingers.
“You’re just my type, my type exactly… a woman!”
Formerly commander of the heavenly armies, Pigsy is turned into a pig monster and expelled from heaven for drunken sexual harassment of the Jade Emperor’s mistress. Originally played by ten times Japanese Academy Award nominated actor Toshiyuki Nishida.
“An eel! I hate eels!”
Considering the faults and crimes of his companions, gloomy Sandy, a high ranking official in heaven, is rather harshly turned into a water monster for breaking a vase.
“Remember Monkey… No violence.”
A boy priest all too human – played, confusingly for a nine year old boy, by the late female actress Masako Natsume – charged with collecting holy scriptures from India and keeping control of his troublesome bodyguards.
Thanks to www.greatsage.net for helping to fill in the blanks of my memory.