BBC Olympics 2008 Monkey Movie – A review

The BBC have always produced some excellent promotional videos ahead of big events, such as the Football World Cup and the Rugby World Cup, and I for one always enjoy watching them, as these videos do remind you about the key characters in the game, the past greatness and of course, the music choice is usually impeccable, and naturally inspires a flurry of forum posts about ‘who composed the music?’

However, in a change from the usual “iconic images from the past” theme, the BBC have taken a big bold step of commissioning a two-minute animated piece called “Journey to the East”, with characters from that classic Chinese tale ‘Journey to the West‘ such as Sun Wukong (the Monkey King ‘Monkey‘ who is also the mascot for the BBC’s Olympics broadcast), Zhu Bajie (Pigsy) and Sha Wu Jing (Sandy ) and even Guan Yin, the kind goddess of good fortune who has WuKong’s best interests at heart.

Monkey and Friends

The difference is (as the BBC’s Ollie William’s put it so succinctly) that the animated story has twisted the original to become Journey to the East for the Olympics, where the three friends/companions battle their way to the Bird’s Nest Stadium through some of the Olympic events, such as diving, throwing the hammer and the javelin, hurdling, pole-vaulting, ‘passing the baton’ (yes, the relay) and taekwando just to name many.

The hammer’s life was never the same again…

The animation was the brainchild of the people behind the virtual band Gorillaz (namely Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett) and you can see plenty of pictures of the background scenery, the characters and behind-the-scenes just by clicking on the main information page about the mascot and the production on the BBC website. Watch the animation below!

So what do you think of the video? I’ve been reading comments posted in response to Ollie William‘s BBC blog post about this very video, and some comments are literally polar opposites, but there are plenty of others falling in-between, although I’m personally very happy to say that most are positive responses to what I feel is a highly dynamic, inventive, inspired and all-encompassing production.

Which of course means – I like it. The music did take me very much by surprise (it switches halfway from a slow and gentle tune with a solo vocal by Jia Ruhan and traditional Chinese instruments, such as the Erhu, to an upbeat electronic track-remix as the action starts) since I was expecting something a bit less ‘Chinese’ in style and more techno (as is usually the case for these videos) but this unique piece did actually complement the animation very well!

I think that what has made the video so unforgettable is this: the combination of a classic Chinese novel, traditional Chinese music and ‘typical’ Chinese background scenery (with a modern twist) as the backdrop to the story of friends working together towards the Olympics Bird’s Nest stadium; it so brilliantly sends out the crystal-clear message that this is all about the Beijing 2008 Olympics, even if the song lyrics might have lost its meaning through (lack of) translation.

The “Journey to the East” storyboard

For those who are wondering about the lyrics, with credit to marcher233 and dirtyfooty for the translation, this is what Guan Yin is singing:

Congratulations Wu Kong, on your pilgrimage
For hope and glory
Kindle the dream, share life and death
Travel the world without pause
Push forth despite difficulties and hardships
Break through the fear, quest for hope and glory
A bright and colorful dream, combining body and soul

For hope… (x4)

On a side note, if you would like to find out more information about the classic Legend of the Monkey King tale, please take a look at this excellent website by Yuen called Journey to the West – The Legend of the Monkey King. There is plenty of in-depth commentary on the actual story, the author, the characters, as well as links to related multimedia such as TV series and films.

Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy

Quite a few readers will have watched one Japanese adaptation called “Monkey” or (Monkey Magic) (esp. the UK readers) that was broadcast on the BBC back in the late-70s. One of the more recent TV adaptations by Hong Kong’s TVB station, in which Dicky Cheung starred as the main character, is also known as “Journey to the West ’96” and (a slightly shameless plug here, as I am participating in the project as a translator/editor!) the series is currently being subbed into English and Spanish by a fansub group called SWK Fansubs.

UPDATE (23/12/08): As the BBC is no longer providing the file for download, I have decided to provide it here since it is a great theme song. Please click to download the BBC Olympics Monkey Theme Song mp3 in a zip file.

UPDATE (22/08/08): Download the BBC’s Olympics ‘Monkey’ theme song as an mp3 for free directly from the BBC (UK listeners only) for only one week starting today by visiting this site: BBC – Download our Olympics ‘Monkey’ theme. Alternatively, click on the ‘play’ button above to listen to the mp3!

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7 comments on “BBC Olympics 2008 Monkey Movie – A review
  1. jerry says:

    Hi Mosey!

    I think the video is great, thanks for bringing it to my attention. I imagine some people are overly concerned with political correctness regarding the Chinese people and culture. Funny world!


  2. flick says:

    Hi Jerry,
    Thanks for your comment! I’m very glad to read that you like the video as well, and have to agree that people can get so touchy about the strangest things. Of course, I’m probably one of them :p


  3. flick says:

    Just to let everyone know that you can now download the mp3 directly from the BBC site. Please see the link at the end of the post! 🙂 You can also listen to it on WP Snippets as well.

  4. limehouse says:

    Does anyone know the name of the song played when the BBC does the results summary ?

  5. flick says:

    @limehouse: If it’s the same theme that’s played in between the web/online broadcast, I think it’s a commissioned piece rather than something by a particular artist. I did record this, and although it’s not very good quality, if you’re interested, I could put it up on the site.

  6. Nate-D says:

    Hey, please post if you ever find out a way any other countries could get the song. I really love it and could see myself listening to just the song.

  7. flick says:

    You can now download the BBC Olympics 2008 “Monkey” theme song from WordPress Snippets!

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