Bleeding Cool News are reporting that Sandman and American Gods writer Neil Gaiman has just signed a deal with Zhang Jizhong (one of China’s biggest TV producers) to work on a big screen adaptation of the Chinese classic novel “Journey To The West”. The book tells the tale of the Monkey King’s quest to protect the boy-priest Tripitaka (the character’s name varies depending on the version of the story) as he attempts to retrieve the sacred Buddhist scrolls from India. It also formed the basis for one of the greatest cult tv series of all time, “Monkey!”
Gaiman will replace the previous (currently unnamed) screenwriter and will produce English scripts for a series of three films. Speaking in China last year, Jizhong boasted that the adaptation of the three thousand page epic would cost in excess of $300 million to make. That’s about the same as the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, but given how cheap it is to make films in China it could work out to being a lot more in like for like terms. The films are currently being funded by Chinese backers but it’s understood that overseas investments may be sought as well, making this a truly international effort. The Chinese government has become extremely keen on exporting Chinese culture in recent years which explains the rather unusual level of openness to outside involvement. Concerns have already emerged about how much influence the government will try to exert over the production after a representative from the state Censors appeared at the press conference alongside Jizhong, but Gaiman seems undeterred:
“Monkey is irrepressible. The moment that you try to censor Monkey, he’s not Monkey anymore.”
If that’s not exciting enough for you then you may like to hear that the name at the top of the list for potential directors is none other than Hellboy & Pan’s Labyrinth director, Guillermo del Toro! Nothing is confirmed as of late but we know that del Toro and Gaiman are personal friends and there are reports that the legendary director is being strongly courted by the film’s producers. You probably don’t need me to tell you just how incredible a team up like this could be. Sure it means that we may have to wait quite a while for a third Hellboy film but given what’s on the table here, that’s a hit I’ll happily take.
It has also been reported that Gaiman has contacted James Cameron about helping to apply 3D to the movie. I’m very much from the “couldn’t give a crap about 3D if it was strapped to a bus and dropped on my head” camp. I think it reduces the clarity of the image and I resent paying extra for what is effectively a gimmick. But it will help the movie to sell and if they’re going to do it then they might as well have the guy who invented half the tech helping out. So long as there’s a 2D version released as well then I’ll be happy.
Speaking to Hollywood Reporter this week, Gaiman laid out his stall in terms of how serious he is about the project:
“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. “
From where I’m sitting, this has the potential to be one of the most exciting film projects for a decade. It’s still a long way off, but trust me, we’ll be keeping an eye on this one.