03rd May2018

‘The New Legends of Monkey: Season 1’ Review (Netflix)

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Chai Hansen, Luciane Buchanan, Josh Thomson, Emilie Cocquerel | Directed by Craig Irvin, Gerard Johnstone


Produced by Australia’s ABC, Netflix and TVNZ, The New Legends of Monkey is inspired by the 16th Century Chinese fable Journey To The West, which has already spawned a number of films and series, including its most famous, or is that infamous(?) adaptation, the 1979-80 BBC series Monkey, which took the tale of Monkey, Tripitaka, Pigsy and Sandy and turned it into a hilarious, and VERY fondly remembered, TV show that still – to this day – is held is high regard.

Especially by me.

You see, for me, Monkey was my childhood introduction into the “strange world” of foreign language TV and, more importantly, dubbed martial arts action. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Monkey I doubt I would have been quite so open to Far Eastern action as I was – an openess that led me down a path of renting the likes of Streetfighter and Sister Streetfighter; a myriad of early, like 1970s early, Jackie Chan movies (on the Imperial label no less); and a smattering of Godfrey Ho ninja movies. In fact I’d say my love for action movies was born out of watching Monkey just as much as classic 80s action shows like Knightrider and The A-Team.

This new series features an international cast, reflecting the more varied characters found in the original source material. But that’s not to say this new iteration varies in any way from what you remember of the original series. The New Legends of Monkey follows the same motley trio of fallen gods – Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy – who escort a young monk, named Tripitaka, on a perilous quest to bring an end to demonic rule and restore balance to the world.

Taking the classic tale more seriously, yet still imbuing its story with as much fun and frivolity as the late 70s version, The New Legends of Monkey also proffers more of a back story to its characters than the BBC version (that I remember). Showing us not only how our anti-hero Monkey, a good God who inadvertently set free demons that ravaged humans and Gods alike was punished and frozen in a stone for 500 years, but also how Tripitaka – also played by a woman in the previous series – actually came to become the legendary monk… and it’s also the progression of Tripitaka, from imposter to someone worthy of the name, which is the core, nay the heart, of this adaptation.

The 10-part series is essentially split into 3 distinct “chapters”, beginning with the hows and whys of what brings Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka together before moving on to introducing the main villains of the first season, as well as explaining how and why Monkey was trapped for years inside a mountain. The final third tasks our cast of characters with their first quest, to obtain a mystical scroll, one of 7 hidden by Monkey; and their first big battle, which also brings Monkey’s redemption story to a close – allowing further seasons, should they see light of day, to focus on further quests to obtain more of the scrolls that Monkey scattered to the four corners of the Earth…

It may be obvious to say, but The New Legends of Monkey is not your fathers, or in this case, my Monkey, but it’s still a fantastic family-friendly update of the Journey to the West fable and at less than 25 minutes an episode the show never outstays its welcome. In fact, by the time the last episode ended, I was gagging for more of this story. A sure sign that the creators are onto a winner!

The New Legends of Monkey is available on Netflix now.


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