As one of the most populous fictional icons inspiring at least 100 movies and TV series over nearly 90 years, the Monkey King will has its latest film adaptation to hit next year's Spring Festival season.
Based on the famed Chinese classic novel Journey to the West, which was written by Wu Cheng'en during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the upcoming fantasy, titled Monkey King 2, or Monkey King: White Skeleton Demon, will be released next year on Feb 8, it was announced at a recent media event in Shanghai.
It's planned to be the second instalment of a seven-title franchise with a total budget as high as 350 million yuan ($74.6 million), and will be released one sequel every two years.
Its first instalment, The Monkey King, or Monkey King: The Legend Begins, was the top earner during last year's hot Spring Festival season, raking in 1.05 billion yuan. Allured by that success, the second sequel at a cost of 450 million yuan again sets its target on moviegoing families, who mainly enjoy the holiday as a time to relax together.
During the seven-day Spring Festival holiday in 2014, nearly 39 million people flocked to 800,000 screenings in the country and created a record box office of 1.7 billion yuan, more than half of which was scooped up by The Monkey King.
"We'll have a big number of scenarios featuring the special effects, which may reach the highest level of Chinese-language movies. All the computer-generated roles, such as the dragon horse and the colossal tiger, will grab the appetites of both children and elderly audiences," says Liu Xiaoguang, the franchise's producer.
Adapted from one of the most famed episodes of Journey to the West, the movie revolves on Monkey King's fights against a shrewd, seductive enchantress, Baigujing (white skeleton demon), who tries to eat the fresh and blood of the monkey's Buddhism monk master to pursue an immortal life.
The monk's horse was eaten by a tiger at the beginning during his adventurous journey, and he gets a new horse transformed from a white dragon, which is known as the dragon horse in the novel.
Hong Kong veteran actor-singer Aaron Kwok, taking the protagonist role of Monkey King, notes that it's his first time to work with top Chinese mainland star Gong Li, who said earlier this year that her version of Baigujing would break the stereotype of the demon, which has fascinated Chinese readers for more than 500 years.
The dazzling star cast also includes Chinese actor Feng Shaofeng (recently in the Sino-French coproduction Wolf Totem), the veteran comedian/actor Xiao Shenyang, who shot to fame at the 2009 Spring Festival Gala, and Chinese American singer-actor Kris Philips, who has earned an international reputation on the Broadway stage.
As a favourite theme on small and big screens, Monkey King's superhero tales have been adapted many times as early as 1927, when the first Journey to The West-inspired silent movie, The Cave of the Silken Web, made a buzz in Shanghai. Late influential works include the 1986 hit TV series Journey to the West, and Hong Kong actor Stephen Chow's two-sequel franchise A Chinese Odyssey.