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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Complete Series


Starring: Masaaki Sakai, Masako Natsume, Shiro Kishibe, Toshiyuki Nishida, Tonpei Hidari and Shunji Fujimura
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
RRP: £69.99

Certificate: 12
Release Date: 05 October 2020

“In the worlds before Monkey, primal chaos reigned. Heaven sought order. But the phoenix can fly only when its feathers are grown. The four worlds formed again and yet again, as endless eons wheeled and passed. Time and the pure essences of heaven, the moisture of the earth, the powers of the sun and the moon worked upon a certain rock, old as creation. And it became magically fertile. That first egg was named ‘thought’. Tathagata Buddha, the Father Buddha said, ‘With our thoughts we make the world.’ Elemental forces caused the egg to hatch. From it then came a stone monkey. The nature of Monkey was irrepressible…”

Confused? I’m not surprised. The pilot episode crams so much back story into the proceedings that it’s enough to turn anyone off before the series even begins. Try this synopsis instead: For his arrogance and troublesome nature, Monkey is given a lower position in heaven in order to teach him responsibility. However, when he eats the protected peaches of strength and immortality, and attempts to take over a position of power – even disrespecting the Buddha – he is expelled from heaven and trapped under a mountain for 500 years. The Buddha has written new scriptures and tasked a young priest, renamed Tripitaka, to journey to India to recover them. But the quest will be a dangerous one, so the priest is accompanied by the released Monkey who is controlled via a mentally-controlled headband which gives monkey pain when he becomes wayward. Also, along on the journey are two other expulsions from heaven, Pigsy (a humanoid pig monster creature of gluttony and lust) and Sandy (a humanoid sea monster and ex-cannibal).

By the end of the second episode the format is in place, the journey has begun, and Monkey has even fought and outwitted a thief demon. A water dragon makes the mistake of eating Tripitaka’s horse, and so is obliged to take the shape of a white horse and carry the priest for the entirety of the journey. It even talks to the others when it feels like doing so. All this sounds completely crazy, doesn’t it? But it’s great fun and in turns both ridiculous and extremely amusing. For anyone old enough to remember, the 1970s incorporated Kung-Fu mania in the form of Bruce Lee, the hugely popular series Kung-Fu (starring David Carradine), and even Kung Fu disco and pop songs! Monkey emerged in 1979, around the same time as the excellent The Water Margin. If the latter was the more serious and adult of the two, the former was aimed at a family audience and particularly kids. The whole thing is so quirky, the trio of guides/protectors bounce off of each other and are almost constantly in conflict with each other, even though they fight as a unit.

Fabulous Films have released a Blu-ray set of the complete series for the first time anywhere worldwide. There is also a complete DVD set (which is what I am reviewing). Monkey, a Japanese drama based on a Chinese tale from the 16th Century about a Buddhist priest from the 7th Century, was reworked for a British audience by scriptwriter David Weir, who had previously adapted The Water Margin. Monkey was screened on BBC2 in 1979 to much acclaim. They showed 39 of 52 episodes. David Collins who voiced the title character sadly passed away earlier this year. He has appeared in Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel, and Gerry Anderson’s UFO. Peter Woodthorpe who voiced Pigsy has also passed on. They have certainly left behind a legacy here. You may be interested to know that Miriam Margoyles voiced many of the female characters on the show, and Andrew Sachs voiced Tripitaka’s horse who is really a Water Dragon. The ‘lost’ 13 episodes were dubbed by Fabulous Films in 2004 using the original cast, and were narrated by Bert Kwouk (Cato in The Pink Panther films).

Although Restored, these episodes do not appear to have been remastered from the original negatives. In other words, they really should look brighter and crisper. But don’t let this spoil your enjoyment of a fondly remembered series. I didn’t notice any existing damage to the picture or sound, and it’s eminently viewable. It really is great to have some of these old shows returned to us from an age when we believed that if you missed it you’d missed it forever. Extras include a Documentary about the dubbing of the lost 13 episodes, and PDF Scans of original dubbing scripts.


Ty Power

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