Ancient tale 'Wu Cheng' gets high-tech treatment

BEIJING A Chinese shingle is taking the country’s 3-D craze to the smallscreen with 45-episode costume drama “Wu Cheng-en and the Journey to the West,” touted as one of the first 3-D TV series in the world.

The 100 million yuan ($15 million) skein, produced by China Film and Television Prod. in association with Meiya Chuntian Intl. Film and TV Culture, Beijing Yong Tong Beijing Cultural Development and Zhong Shi Xie Film and Television Prod., has been five years in the making and still has 18 months of post-production to complete.

Some $7.5 million of the budget was devoted to the 3-D effects, and each 45-minute episode will contain around 10 minutes of 3-D.

The series is based on a story that dates back to the 1590s and ascribed to the scholar Wu Cheng-en, which follows a Chinese Buddhist monk’s quest to India to obtain a religious text. The monk has four animal protectors — the Monkey King, a pig, a river demon and a dragon prince — who agree to help him as an atonement for past sins.

The 1986 TV version of “Journey to the West” is one of the best-known and beloved TV shows in Chinese history.

The new skein imagines Wu’s attempts to write the story while following the legend itself.

The project reunites the stars of the original skein — Liu Xiao Ling Tong, Chi Chongrui and Ma Ma Dehua. Liu will reprise his role as the Monkey King and also play Wu. Yan Huaili, the fourth member of the original cast, died in April and will be replaced by Liu Dagang.

“This drama is about … Wu Cheng-en writing ‘The Journey to the West,’ ” China Film and Television producer Wu Qiuyun told the Beijing News. “But if the main storyline was only Wu Cheng-en, that may affect the audience ratings. So we put the same actors in ‘The Journey to the West’ together, and re-filmed some parts of it, and then made those into 3-D.”

She adds, “We are still negotiating with (state pubcaster) CCTV about broadcasting the show. But we’ll probably air it on a local TV station.”

The drama began shooting in Hengdian studios two years ago, but the producers did not reveal back then it would contain 3-D scenes, due to concerns that the technology would not work.

They have created special glasses for watching the skein and will distribute them through large-scale marketing events.

However, tt will be interesting to see if, at 45 episodes, the skein falls foul of a new ruling by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television aimed at limiting the number of episodes in a TV series to 30.

China’s first 3-D toon, “The Carnival of the Animals,” was released this year. It was produced by pubcaster China Central Television’s animation unit and includes the voices of CCTV Children’s Channel hosts Ju Ping, Dong Hao and Liu Chunyan.

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