The Monkey King, also known as Sun Wukong, hails from the classic Chinese novel "Journey to the West," which describes a Buddhist monk's pilgrimage to India to collect religious texts. He is protected by three disciples, including a fighting monkey with magical powers.
The popular story is frequently adapted in stage productions, movies and TV series. It received the Hollywood treatment in 2008 when Lionsgate released "The Forbidden Kingdom," which costarred Jackie Chan and Jet Li, who played the Monkey King.
Now Chinese filmmakers are answering with a big-budget adaptation of their own.
Hong Kong director Soi Cheang started shooting "Monkey King" in Beijing on Oct. 8 with Yen in the title role and Chow playing a mythical emperor, Hong Kong-based Filmko Entertainment, one of the investors, said in a statement Monday. Other stars include actor-singer Aaron Kwok and actresses Kelly Chen, Cecilia Cheung and Gigi Leung.
"Monkey King" follows the character's life story before his India trip, when he attacked the Heavenly Kingdom with the Buffalo Demon King (Kwok), upset that he was snubbed by its rulers — a move that led to his imprisonment until the pilgrimage.
Chinese studios are keen to cash in on the country's fast-growing 3-D movie market, which delivered a whopping $206 million in box office revenues to the makers of the Hollywood sci-fi epic "Avatar" earlier this year — a feat that made the James Cameron film the top-grossing movie in China of all time. About a third, or 1,100 of China's movie screens are 3-D screens, the official Xinhua News Agency reported in April.
Famed Hong Kong director Tsui Hark also recently started shooting a 3-D production, announcing he will remake his 1992 kung fu movie "Dragon Inn" in the format.
The production team for "Monkey King" draws from Hollywood expertise, including visual effects designers who worked on 3-D movies like "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland," Filmko said.
Yen was most recently seen in Andrew Lau's "Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen," playing the nationalist hero made famous by Bruce Lee. Chow's releases this year are the biopic "Confucius" and the World War II-era drama "Shanghai."
The director of "Monkey King" is known for tackling monster-like characters in horror films. Cheang's latest movie, the psychological thriller "Accident," was nominated for the Golden Lion Prize at the Venice Film Festival last year.
Filmko said the Hong Kong filmmaker will spend five months shooting "Monkey King" and another 15 months editing his footage. The expected release date is 2012.
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