In the worlds before Monkey, primal chaos reigned.
Heaven sought order; but the phoenix can fly only when its feathers are grown.
The four worlds formed again and yet again, as endless aeons wheeled and passed. Time and the pure essences of Heaven, the moisture of the Earth, the powers of the Sun and the Moon all worked upon a certain rock, old as creation. And it became magically fertile.
That first egg was named "Thought". Tathagata Buddha, the Father Buddha, said, "With our thoughts we make the world". Elemental forces caused the egg to hatch. From it then came a stone monkey.
The nature of monkey was irrepressible!
So opened each episode of Monkey, aka Monkey Magic, a cult classic TV series based on the 16th century Chinese epic Hsi Yu Chi. This series was as much a part of my childhood as other entertainment classics such as The A Team, or Knight Rider; but coming back to it now, years later, it's still great, and not just in a cheesy, retro way. As a kid, I enjoyed Monkey's mad ninja skillz, laughed at Sandy and Pigsy, and felt a little uneasy about Tripitaka (aka Hsüan Tsang, who actually existed, and did journey from China to India and back in the 7th century AD). Now, the confusion over Tripitaka's gender has been cleared up (it's an actress, playing a young boy, who may or may not be a eunuch), and I'm more sure of what's going on; and also, I've just watched the first three episodes on video, so I know what the characters' motivations are.
Monkey: AKA the Great Sage, Equal of Heaven. Monkey is the stone monkey who bursts from the egg at the start of each show. He is practically indestructable, he knows every magic trick under the sun, he can change shape at will, he is immortal, and he has a magic wishing staff which changes size at his command. On earth, Monkey was the king of the monkey people. He loved a fight, and so his people fought with whatever demons or people they came across.
Meanwhile, up in heaven, the Jade Emperor was disturbed by all the fighting down on earth; and having received complaints from the Dragon King, the emperor's advisor (the Spirit of the planet Venus) suggested that they invite Monkey up to heaven, which he did. Monkey found his first job in heaven, that of Director of the heavenly stables, demeaning (because it meant shoveling dung), and so he was appointed as Guardian of the Heavenly Peach Garden, and officially given the title of Great Sage, Equal Of Heaven. One tree held peaches that granted those who eat them supernatural strength; another tree's fruit granted agelessness and the power of levitation; and on the third tree grew peaches which gave immortality and indestructability. Monkey was warned that the peaches were only to be eaten by the guests at the Emperor's peach banquet; naturally, Monkey ignored this, and gorged himself on peaches.
When the emperor sent his maidens to pick peaches for his next banquet, Monkey refused to believe their story; the emperor would never hold a banquet without inviting the Great Sage, Equal of Heaven! Monkey invaded the banquet hall, and fought with both the Marshall and Commander of the Host of Heaven, and broke the emperor's prized Jade Cup; in the end, the emperor pleaded with Buddha to intervene.
The Buddha summoned Monkey to the Himalayas, and challenged him to fly from her hand to the end of the Universe; if he succeded, she would have the Jade Emperor step aside in his favour. Monkey accepts this challenge with relish; he summons his pink cloud and off he flies. Having flown through wind, rain and darkness, Monkey reaches the five pillars at the end of the universe. He decorates one of the pillars with some graffiti, writing "The Great Sage, King Monkey, Equal of Heaven was here" in Japanese. He then returns to Buddha, telling her that he saw the five pillars, that were the colour of skin, at the end of the universe. Buddha raises her hand; on one of her fingers is Monkey's grafitti! Realizing that he has lost the challenge, Monkey tries to flee, but the Buddha casts him down; he lands on a mountain, and is there covered by rubble and stone, his powers sealed by the Buddha's scroll; trapped in the rock until someone removes the seal.
- Pigsy was originally the Marshall of the heavenly host. But because there wasn't much for the heavenly host to do, Pigsy grew bored with his job, and turned to food and wine. When Monkey attacked the emperor's banquet, Pigsy dragged the Lady Vega away from the banquet, to "protect" her. Drunk on wine and lust, he tries to kiss Vega, but the emperor catches up with them, and expels Pigsy from heaven, to live life as a pig monster on earth.
- Sandy, former Commander of the heavenly host, was expelled from heaven fairly unjustly. When Monkey attacked the banquet, Sandy took up the emperor's prized Jade Fish Cup, to try to save it from being smashed; but Monkey knocked it out of his hands with his staff, breaking it into a thousand pieces. The emperor condemned poor Sandy to live on earth as a water monster from then on.
Tripitaka's real name was Hsüan Tsang, something he didn't find out until he started his pilgrimage and first met his real mother. Tripitaka grew up on a monastery; the abbot had found him as a baby, left beside the river with a note. The abbot sends Tripitaka on his way with the note, and Tripitaka meets his mother for the first time; she is living with the man who killed her husband (Tripitaka's father), who would kill her if she stepped out of line. Luckily, he is away when Tripitaka visits, and his mother sends him away with his true name, and news for the emperor of China that his (Tripitaka's) father (who was the governor of the province) has been slain and usurped.
In the meantime, the Buddha has called a meeting of all Buddhas and Boddhisatvas to tell them of her plan to send a holy man on a quest to India to get the Great Vehicle (Mahayana) Sutras. The goddess Kuan Yinn the Compassionate takes on a male incarnation to seek this holy man, to whom he will give the name Tripitaka. On his journey, Kuan Yinn frees the daughter of the dragon king, whose tears were flooding the earth while she was awaiting execution by her father, from her chains, and also meets Pigsy and Sandy, telling them all of the quest, and that they would meet Monkey, who would explain the quest to them. He suggests to Pigsy and Sandy, who aren't that happy having spent the 500 years as monsters, that they might be allowed back into heaven if they help Tripitaka. Kuan Yinn also visits Monkey, who has now been buried under the mountain for five centuries, and tells him that a holy man will release him from the Buddha's seal.
Upon hearing Tripitaka's tale, the emperor of China gathers his armies to crush the outlaws who have usurped Tripitaka's father; their leaders are rounded up for execution. Tripitaka begs the emperor not to kill them, but he insists that justice must be done. Later, as Tripitaka prays over the bodies of the dead outlws, Kuan Yinn sees him, and decides that he has found his holy man. Kuan Yinn tells Tripitaka about the greater vehicle sutras, and Tripitaka decides to undertake the quest in order that the sutras might save the souls of people like his father's killers. Kuan Yinn give him the name Tripitaka, and several gifts, along with instructions for their use. Tripitaka tells the emperor, who provides him with a horse and provisions for his long journey.
Through the first three episodes, we see how Tripitaka meets up with the rest of the gang. First, she frees Monkey, and tells him of the great quest; Monkey reluctantly agrees to accompany Tripitaka, but when they are attacked by bandits, and Monkey kicks the crap out of them, Tripitaka insists that there is to be no violence or killing on their journey. When Monkey disagrees, and tries to leave, Tripitaka throws a golden circlet, given him by Kuan Yinn, which fixes itself on Monkey's head; upon recitation of a holy Sutra, the circlet shrinks, causing Monkey considerable pain; and so, under duress, Monkey promises to obey Tripitaka.
Next, Tripitaka and Monkey meet the daughter of the Dragon King. While crossing some mountains, a large water-spout rises from a river below them, and the Dragon appears out of it, and grabs Tripitaka's horse. Incensed, Monkey dives into the river after it. After trading blows with the dragon, Monkey lets slip about his quest; the Dragon, remembering what Kuan Yinn told her, joins them, and takes the shape of a talking horse, to replace the one she ate. Later on, Pigsy and Sandy join them, in far more prosaic ways. And thus they begin their journey to the west...
This page proclaims "Monkey is Funky!" But still, it contains a nice synopsis of the first three or four episodes. It might be a work in progress, or it might have been abandoned, but there's some good reading there, anyway.
Very good fan site from someone who has met most of the actors in person. Lots of Monkey stuff here (screensavers, wallpaper, games), if you're *that* interested!