Hoping to turn the traditional West-to-East flow of intellectual property on its head, a new Chinese-American partnership has unveiled plans to bring a blockbuster retelling of the traditional Chinese myth of the Monkey King to English-language film screens.
Los Angeles-based Abstract Entertainment will join Eracme Entertainment of China in reimagining the story of the mythical monkey, born from stone, who takes on the magical powers of many transforming creatures.
While the character was first introduced in 16th century China in the novel “Journey to the West,” the producers believe that it will translate to modern audiences around the world, with the characters re-created through the sensibility of screenwriter Christopher Yost (of the “Thor” movies) and designed with direction from Richard Taylor, who created the imagery for “Lord of the Rings.”
“There has been a rush to bring Western-originated movies to the Chinese market,” said producers Mike Bundlie and Barry Levine, principals of Abstract Entertainment. “’Monkey’ reverses that and will be the first English-language film focused on introducing a Chinese tale to the international audience, in a contemporary setting.”
Financing partner Eracme is the creation of a group of commercial real estate investors in China. Its film enterprise is headed by Angela Wu, Fei Tan and Amber Wang, who aspire to bring Chinese content to a worldwide audience.
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Shepherding the project are producers Levine, a one-time rock music photographer, whose previous film producing credits include “Hercules” and “Oblivion,” and Bundlie, a producer of “The Marvel Experience,” an interactive 3D digital presentation of Marvel’s comic universe. Abstract Entertainment has also been developing “The Downslope,” a Civil War drama based on Stanley Kubrick’s screenplay. Also producing are David Miller, Rob Feng and Lauren Selig, who was — previously attached to “Everest,” “Lone Survivor” and many other films.
The centuries-old “Monkey King” is a must-read for Chinese schoolchildren and continues to have a grip on the nation’s imagination. In 2014 a live-action version of “The Monkey King” was the third-highest-grossing film in China, raking in more than $167 million. An animated remake, “Monkey King: Hero Is Back,” debuted this July and has already grossed close to $151 million.
In 2008, Jackie Chan and Jet Li starred in “The Forbidden Kingdom,” an action film that put a band of martial arts warriors on a mission to free the Monkey King. The Lionsgate film made almost $128 million worldwide.
To convert the Chinese classic for Western audiences in the latest adaptation, the producers chose screenwriter Yost, who brings multiple superhero credits, including the film “Thor: The Dark World” and several TV series, including “Iron Man: Armored Adventures” and “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” Yost expressed excitement about the chance to convert “Monkey” into “a globe-hopping, modern adventure.” He called it “the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Academy Award winner Taylor, a New Zealander, said he also sees the possibility of creating “a new fantastic approach to the Monkey King legend.”
The producers are looking for a director to head the project. No date has yet been set for filming.