Eddie Peng as Sun Wukong in "Wu Kong".
Wu Cheng'en 16th-century novel, "Journey to the West", is no doubt among the greatest novels ever written in the history of Chinese literature.
No wonder the novel has inspired various forms of media representations including numerous TV series and feature-length adaptations.
Well, this month, a brand new incarnation of the Sun Wukong character is set to arrive in cinemas. Simply titled as "Wu Kong", the upcoming kung fu fantasy stars Eddie Peng as the title character with Derek Kwok ("Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons") responsible as the director.
As we await the release of "Wu Kong", here are the top 5 Chinese actors that have played the legendary Sun Wukong characters thus far.
5. Jet Li in "The Forbidden Kingdom" (2008)
One of Jet Li's dual roles as Sun Wukong a.k.a. The Monkey King in "The Forbidden Kingdom" (2008).
By the time "The Forbidden Kingdom" arrived in 2008, both Jackie Chan and Jet Li have already passed their prime. Still, this Hollywood-China kung fu fantasy remains notable as the first action movie featuring two Chinese martial art legends sharing the same screen. While the "Journey to the West"-inspired storyline is sadly reduced to a dumbed-down Americanised version, Yuen Woo-Ping's action choreography is a lifesaver here. Then, there's Jet Li, whose dual performances as Silent Monk and The Monkey King managed to display his usual playful charm and still-nimble martial arts showcase. Although the highlight goes to Jackie Chan's Lu Yan and Jet Li's Silent Monk during their first encounter in the temple, it's also nice to see Jet Li's The Monkey King pitted against Collin Chou's Jade Warlord. If Jet Li vs. Collin Chou sounds familiar, that is because they fought each other before in 1994's "The Bodyguard From Beijing".
4. Lin Gengxin in "Journey To The West: The Demons Strike Back" (2017)
Lin Gengxin as the new Sun Wukong in "Journey To The West: The Demons Strike Back" (2017).
The sequel to Stephen Chow and Derek Kwok's "Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons" in 2013 was notable for its major cast overhaul, while Tsui Hark took over the solo directing duty. Among the glaring differences here is the casting of Sun Wukong. Instead of Huang Bo who appeared in a minor role towards the climactic finale in the first movie, a younger actor in the form of "The Taking Of Tiger Mountain" and "The Great Wall" Lin Gengxin was cast for the pivotal role. With the Sun Wukong role being expanded into a major character this time around, Lin Gengxin was able to capture the freewheeling spirit that recalls of Stephen Chow's signature "mo lei tau" (nonsensical) comedy.
3. Donnie Yen in "The Monkey King" (2014)
An unrecognisable Donnie Yen in a full makeup appearance as Sun Wukong in "The Monkey King" (2014).
Over the course of his 30 years' of experience in the film industry, Donnie Yen is largely known for his serious martial arts roles ranging from 1992's "Once Upon A Time In China II" to his popular "Ip Man" movies. When Yen was first cast as the legendary Sun Wukong in "The Monkey King", many were originally sceptical about his role. Fortunately, Yen managed to deliver after all. Apart from showcasing his typically agile moves during the staff-fighting sequences, Yen also successfully displayed Sun Wukong's mischievous and childlike personality. Best of all, it's not every day that we get to see Donnie Yen let loose with a surprisingly better-than-average comedic performance that doesn't feel as awkward and embarrassing like he did in "Iceman".
2. Aaron Kwok in "The Monkey King 2" (2016)
Aaron Kwok plays a more mature Sun Wukong in "The Monkey King 2" (2016).
Despite Donnie Yen's praiseworthy performance as Sun Wukong in "The Monkey King", Soi Cheang's first instalment of the "Journey to the West" saga was largely met with mixed results due to the haphazard plot, thinly-drawn supporting characters and average-looking CGI. But two years later, Soi Cheang's follow-up is significantly improved over the erratic 2014 original. While Donnie Yen chose not to return for the second time around, Aaron Kwok proved to be a worthy replacement as Sun Wukong in "The Monkey King 2". Ironically, Kwok has previously appeared in the first movie as the antagonist named Bull Demon King. That performance, of course, was sadly underwritten. Thankfully, his Sun Wukong role managed to offset whatever shortcomings he had in the first movie. Instead of rehashing Yen's largely playful performance, Kwok's version of Sun Wukong is decidedly more human. At the same time, he never forgets to capture Sun Wukong's cheeky attitude that made him one of the best Sun Wukong characters ever seen in Chinese cinema.
1. Stephen Chow in "A Chinese Odyssey" (1995)
Stephen Chow as Monkey King and Ng Man-Tat as Piggy in "A Chinese Odyssey Part Two - Cinderella" (1995).
This is it. Over 20 years after Jeff Lau released the two-part "A Chinese Odyssey" in 1995, the movie is forever known as a modern landmark that tells the age-old story of the "Journey to the West" saga. Although "A Chinese Odyssey" is far from a definitive version but more of a spoof, Jeff Lau's version, separated into "Part One - Pandora's Box" and "Part Two - Cinderella", works so well, thanks to Stephen Chow's scene-stealing performance as the Joker and Monkey King. As the Monkey King alone, Chow portrays the classic prankish character uniquely as his own. Whether he gets annoyed with his talkative master, Longevity Monk (played with hilariously deadpan perfection by Law Kar-Ying) or engages in an epic battle with Bull King (Luk Shu-Ming), Chow's Monkey King is no doubt the most iconic portrayal that remains unsurpassed until today.
"Wu Kong" opens in cinemas nationwide on 13 July 2017.
Cinema Online, 09 July 2017