Neil Gaiman to Adapt Chinese Epic ‘Journey Into the West’ for Film Trilogy
Journey Into the West is one of if not the most beloved novel of classic Chinese literature, and it has been adapted for screen, television and even comic books numerous times. Producer Zhang Jizhong hopes to eclipse all previous adaptations of the work, and he certainly has a decent shot now that The Sandman writer Neil Gaiman has agreed to write the screenplay for what will be a trilogy of major motion pictures. Avatar creator James Cameron is also expected to consult on the project, which may cost as much as $300 million.Western audiences may be familiar with Journey Into the West in the form of an eponymous film starring Stephen Chow that was released last year. Before that, Jet Li and Jackie Chan co-starred in The Forbidden Kingdom, which is also based on the book. Perhaps most auspiciously, Akira Toriyama’s classic manga Dragon Ball was inspired by Journey Into the West, whose basic structure was helpfully outlined by ICv2:
It is a fictionalized account of a legendary pilgrimage to India by a Buddhist monk (Xuanzang), though the novel’s loose structure contains many disparate elements that are loosely tied together in the picaresque format of a journey. The first seven chapters detail the early exploits of the Monkey King Sun Wukong, who becomes the most intelligent and violent of Xuanzang’s four disciples. Together the five undertake a journey to retrieve the Buddhist Sutras that are the keys to enlightenment.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Gaiman is hard at work on a film treatment that will be used to secure investment in Journey Into the West so that Zhang can hire a director (Guillermo del Toro is rumored) and an international cast. The trilogy will be filmed in China, which boasts not only spectacular locations but also relatively inexpensive production costs, and be filmed in English.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Gaiman remarked, “We have to do what Peter Jackson did with Lord of The Rings. We have to make it filmic, non-episodic. This story is in the DNA of 1.5 billion people.” Indeed, that Journey Into the West is so well known and so beloved in China might be Gaiman’s biggest challenge in adapting the 2,000-page novel. Additional pressure may come from the Chinese government itself, which has been known to censor creative works. Speaking to that, Gaiman said, “Monkey is irrepressible. The moment that you try to censor Monkey, he’s not Monkey anymore.”
Gaiman has spent a lot of time in China, and has indicated that his work on Journey Into the West will itself complete a non-fiction book he’s been writing about the classic text.