Forbidden Kingdom stars Jet Li as the Monkey King (also the Monkey King’s clone, a white-robed kung fu fighting monk) and Jackie Chan as Lu An, the Drunken Immortal (also the aged owner of a Chinese antique store and pawn shop in South Boston). You won’t recognize much of the plot of our story in this movie. Recall that Monkey is based on Journey to the West, a novel of over a thousand pages. Your text is (obviously) a much edited version that contains only a fraction of the original story. The events of this movie may involve chapters we don’t know, or may be intended as a loose parallel to the freeing of Monkey that occurs in chapter 12 of our text, or both. Forbidden Kingdom features a mythic traveler from another world. In the movie he’s not the monk Tripitakas, as in our text, but rather a teenage kung fu freak named Jason Tripitakas from South Boston. It’s Jason Tripitakas’s task to return Monkey’s cudgel (golden bow staff) and release him from the Mountain of Five Elements. This version is totally unlike our Chapter 12. But we should remember that it may involve adventures we didn’t read about that don’t happen in our version of Monkey, but do happen in the original Journey to the West. In any case, early in the film you also get visuals of the Heavenly Peach Banquet, Monkey’s escape from the flaming cauldron, and Monkey’s imprisonment in stone, as Lu An tells Jason the story of the Monkey King over lunch at a rural inn in ancient China. The movie also contains snippets of Taoist philosophy. (Monkey is a Taoist story). This is fitting, since Taoist philosophy also underpins the teachings of martial arts, and clearly a movie starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan is going to be about martial arts. So Go with the flow, and May the Force be with you (both Taoist sayings). Enjoy the fights. And ask yourself this: Why is a philosophy of peace and harmony all about fighting anyway? Essay Questions on Monkey and Forbidden Kingdom As always, choose one to answer in essay form. State your answer in your thesis at the beginning, and defend it by examining specific scenes from the stories. 1. How is Jason Tripitakas in the movie similar to Tripitakas the monk in your version of Monkey? On the surface they seem nothing alike. But the closer you look, the more alike they seem. Why? Discuss their specific similarities in terms of the events of both stories. 2. Why did the Monkey King tell Jason Tripitakas to “free himself” at the end of the adventure? Why did the Jade Emperor tell him to “go through the Gate of No Gate”? What does this advice mean? How did he follow it? Did the monk Tripitaka accomplish the same things at the conclusion of his story? How? 3. How is the Monkey King in Forbidden Kingdom different from the Monkey King in your book? In other words, in what ways did Jet Li’s portrayal of him come as a surprise? What do you think of Jet Li’s interpretation of his character? How can we combine the two versions to understand what the original legendary character must have been like? 4. Both the text of Monkey and the movie Forbidden Kingdom involve a secession of unlikely anti-heroes. Monkey’s always laughing and joking (in the movie he’s smiling even as he’s turned to stone). Lu An’s always drunk. (There’s some doubt as to whether he’s really drunk. Mostly he seems to be faking it.) Pigsy in your book is—well, a pig (not to mention a cannibal with a particular fondness for monks). There are no traditional “serious” heroes in this story. What does that tell us about the Chinese view of what a hero is and how a man becomes one? 5. Using any one of the Taoist poems given on the Tao te Ching handout we read in class, explain how at least one character in each of these stories learned the lesson of this Taoist teaching. 6. Watch The Wizard of Oz. Compare Forbidden Kingdom to The Wizard of Oz, discussing similar characters, scenes, conflicts, and symbols (in other words, any similar motifs). To be sure your response includes the written text of Monkey, also compare/contrast any one character in the written text to a character in the film The Wizard of Oz. Some suggestions: How is Tripitika like Dorothy? How is Monkey like the Scarecrow? How is the Bull Demon like the Wicked Witch of the West? These are only suggestions, and aren’t meant to exclude any other comparisons that seem likely to you.
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