Neil Gaiman to Write Big-Budget Adaptation of Chinese Novel JOURNEY TO THE WEST

     March 10, 2011

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Acclaimed writer Neil Gaiman (The Sandman) has signed on to write the script for a trilogy of 3D big-budget films based on the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West. The story centers on the misadventures of a Buddhist monk as he makes a pilgrimage from China to India.  Gaiman and producer Zhang Jizhong recently consulted with James Cameron on how to translate the 2,000 page novel into a trilogy.  Said Gaiman:

“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.”

According to THR, Gaiman will write “an outline over the next month that will attract enough investment to enable Zhang to hire the right director, the right Western and Chinese cast and the right team of computer animators to give the project a flight round the world.”  Hit the jump for more on the project.

journey-to-the-man-book-cover-01Fans of Gaiman’s highly-literate Sandman comics won’t be surprised to learn that he read the 16th century novel in translation back when he was growing up in England and also saw the Japanese version on the BBC.  THR reports that Guillermo del Toro is being courted to direct, but del Toro is already attached to direct the monster movie Pacific Rim and he hasn’t given up hope of one day directing his R-rated adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (not to mention the countless other projects on his to-do list).

Gaiman believes that despite Western audiences’ lack of familiarity with the novel, there’s nothing inherently Chinese in Journey to the West just as there’s nothing inherently English about Romeo and Juliet (even though it’s set in Italy).  He adds that his script “will begin with little dialogue and could end up relying on the Chinese CGI that so impressed him in Zhang’s TV version of Journey to the West.”  And as for if he’s worried that Chinese censors will try to restrict his script, Gaiman replied:

“[The novel’s trickster hero, The Monkey King] is irrepressible. The moment that you try to censor Monkey, he’s not Monkey anymore.”

Here’s a synopsis of Journey to the West:

Journey to the West is a classic Chinese mythological novel. It was written during the Ming Dynasty based on traditional folktales. Consisting of 100 chapters, this fantasy relates the adventures of a Tang Dynasty (618-907) priest Sanzang and his three disciples, Monkey, Pig and Friar Sand, as they travel west in search of Buddhist Sutra. The first seven chapters recount the birth of the Monkey King and his rebellion against Heaven. Then in chapters eight to twelve, we learn how Sanzang was born and why he is searching for the scriptures, as well as his preparations for the journey. The rest of the story describes how they vanquish demons and monsters, tramp over the Fiery Mountain, cross the Milky Way, and after overcoming many dangers, finally arrive at their destination – the Thunder Monastery in the Western Heaven – and find the Sutra. [Amazon]

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