The Journey to the West made-in-China TV series was quite a big part of my childhood in 1980s Singapore.
The acting was very overly dramatic as Chinese TV series in that period (maybe it still is today – I haven’t watched any new ones), the make-up and special effects horrendous (although probably quite good for its time), and probably just really cheesy. But as a kid, I lapped it all up. I can’t be entirely sure but this may have been a Sunday showing. And on Sunday evenings we could be found at my paternal grandparents’ house, where the cousins and aunts and uncles all gathered. The adults would eat at the big dinner table, the kids would grab our dishes and eat on the front patio. Then we would all watch TV. My grandparents didn’t speak much English, in fact my grandmother didn’t really speak Mandarin and instead spoke a Chinese dialect called Hokkien, which I didn’t really speak. But I think we all would sit down together to watch Journey to the West and all the other Chinese TV shows that would be screened on Sunday evenings.
And that’s where I learnt about Sun Wukong (the monkey king), Zhu Bajie (part-human part-pig), Tang Sanzang (the monk), and Sha Wujing (an exiled Imperial Guard) as they traveled to obtain… ok I have no idea what the journey is about, I just remember that they always got into some trouble with yaoguai (demons) and there would be fighting and whatnot.
So it was an absolute delight for me when I learnt that this legend was incorporated into this YA book.
Eugenia “Genie” Lo is just one hell of a feisty character:
“What you get from me is jack and squat, regardless of whether or not you understand. Ming bai le ma, dickhead?”
She’s a 16-year-old Chinese-American who learns that she’s the reincarnation of the Ruyi Jingu Bang, the magical staff wielded by Sun Wukong, the Monkey King.
Yes somehow a staff has become a human. Crazy, fun, but so is this book.
And it turns out that Quentin, the new kid in school, is Sun Wukong, the Monkey King.
That however means nothing to Genie.
“You’re Chinese and you don’t know me?” he sputtered. “That’s like an American child not knowing Batman!”
“You’re Chinese Batman?”
“No! I’m stronger than Batman, and more important, like — like. Tian na, how do you not know who I am?”
I love how Yee has blended this Chinese legend with American high school life. It’s charming, just hilarious, and such a rolling good time of a read. Also there are demons.
I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – SFF with Asian MC.