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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Watching the Olympics is actually a surprisingly exhausting process, and no doubt everyone has their favourite events. I’ll definitely be elaborating on mine over the next few days as the rest of the events get under way, but really, who would have thought swimming would be *that* nail bitingly exciting?

America’s B-team (and the Aussies) broke the world record (during the heats no less) during the 4x100m freestyle relay, as did fellow American Michael Phelps in the men’s 400m individual medley. He had clearly taken a leaf out of Aussie Stephanie Rice‘s book; she had done exactly that in the women’s 400m individual medley much earlier in the day.

Michael Phelps (Credit: Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

The Dutch also took a surprise gold in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay, breaking the Olympic record at the same time, although the biggest shock of the day for me had to be Korea’s Park Tae-Hwan winning the men’s 400m free style gold. However, it turned out that he had won the World Championships just last year in Sydney, but it’s good to know that some people do perform well even in their first Olympics!

Park Tae-hwan (Credit: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

And in other events… Nicole Cooke won the first gold medal for Britain in this Olympic campaign, which incidentally turned out to be the first ever medal won by Britain in the Olympics women’s road cycling event!

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Did you watch the opening ceremony? I really hope you did, because in one short word, it was spectacular! I can’t say I’ve watched many opening ceremonies, but this one really blew me away, and I would have loved to have been in the Bird’s Nest stadium with the 91,000 people in the audience, plus at least 10,000 athletes, excluding the huge numbers of people (20,000) involved as performers and staff, as the atmosphere would have been absolutely fantastic!

I managed to pick up some pictures from Flickr of the opening ceremony, and would like to thank all the photographers for sharing their pictures online. Unfortunately I was silly enough to not save all the actual links, so apologies for not giving proper and individual credit here:

One World, One Dream
“One World, One Dream” slogan, featuring the ‘World’ rising up from the ground, and images of children from across the globe at the rim of the stadium’s ‘bowl’. The main theme (‘You and Me’) was sung by Liu Huan and Sarah Brightman. You can just see them at the top of the world.

A glimpse at the some of the fireworks used for the opening ceremony, and all in all, apparently there were some 40,000 shots fired into the air! Although I’ve not found a good picture yet, the fireworks representing 29 footsteps along Beijing’s “Axis” to the Bird’s Nest to mark the start of the 29th Olympiad was also very inspiring!

The sheer scale and numbers, evident particularly during the parade of athletes from all 204 delegations … 91,000 spectators and 10,000 athletes, and this excludes all the performers and the staff working behind the scenes (a reported 20,000).

The count down begins till the start of the opening ceremony. Can you believe this was all done by the symbolic 2008 people on the drums?

The very ones that you see here!

This part of the opening ceremony started off with an empty space in the middle of the scroll that unfurled to reveal Chinese culture and history, and as the dancers elegantly pirouetted their way round the paper, they added ink and drew clouds and mountains, typical of Chinese calligraphy art.

And this is a shot of the scroll itself, unfurled…

… which was used as a centre stage for many of the themed performances, which, by the way, were all coordinated by the director of “House of Flying Daggers“, Zhang Yimou.

The pillars from the previous picture ‘rose up’ majestically from the ground, each with a performer in elaborate outfits, some of them being styles from different dynasties. Note the gold dragons carved into the pillars.

Some exceptionally elegant dancers (men and women) were on show last night, and one lady in particular danced centre-stage on a moving platform on the scroll.

The very-one that was painted live by the dancers before. This is probably a better picture showing the overall effect. This canvas was subsequently enhanced by several other painter performers, including school children colouring the canvas during a ‘lesson’. It was then laid onto the ground during the team parade, and every single athlete who took part in this parade had to step on some ink pads and leave their footprints.

This was a depiction of the less well-known history of “Zheng He” sailing around the world at least 87 years before Christopher Columbus started his journey, and is made up of long, individual wooden paddles each held by one of the 2008 performers. They looked incredibly heavy as the performers swung them around during the performance.

And again, more fireworks in and around the Bird’s Nest.

Last but not least, the lighting of the Olympic torch, which no one had seen during rehearsals, and it was both amazing and very symbolic at the same time. The climax was heightened as the identity of the last torch bearer (Li Ning) was kept secret until the very last minute. After receiving the flame, he was raised up to almost the roof/ceiling of the Bird’s Nest, and seemed to run around the rim whilst another scroll unfurled itself, and the videos of all the runners who had relayed the torch and many other videos were projected onto his path.

Alas, I’ve missed out quite a lot of pictures here, where they showcased ‘movable type’ (this was quite something, I will try and find the video for this as I was seriously impressed) ‘Confucius’, traditional instruments and operas, the art of Tai-chi and Kung-fu, the “Terracotta Warriors”, and all the indigenous tribes (50+) dancing in their traditional outfits etc.

The ceremony was extremely high budget (apparently in the region of $100 million USD) and definitely did not disappoint, showcasing talent, flair, creativity, imagination, advanced technologies and overall it was just such an incredible scene to watch live, that I still recall it so very vividly now.

A huge kudos to the performers, staff and everyone who have worked so very hard for the Olympics! 😀 Thank you for amazing me and no doubt the whole world!

p/s:For some beautifully large and high-resolution pictures, please visit this article on by Alan Taylor.

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I can hardly wait, and just felt the need to post and tell everyone. 🙂

Hope you enjoy the opening ceremony as well too!

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As WP Snippets is going to focus on WordPress codes and tips, it was very important that we had a good code syntax highlighter to separate the content from the code clearly, and ensure the display wasn’t messed up by the visual editor!

There are quite a number out there (at least 8!) that do the job, but it was difficult to sieve/test through so many when the new site was going live in a very short time, and it was then that I stumbled upon Chris Cagle‘s excellent article:

The Definitive Guide on WordPress Syntax Highlighter Plugins

The article gives a comprehensive review of 8 different code syntax highlighters that work for WordPress 2.6, including (in alphabetical order)

The plugins have then been ranked in terms of their overall rating in ‘colouring/coloring abilities’ (with colour screen-shots for comparison included!) and their ‘ease of use’, where WP-Chili came out top in the colour rankings (which is what Chris Cagle is using, and he has helpfully provided what he uses on Cagintranet Web Design) but Syntax Highlighter Plus was #1 for ‘ease of use’.

I found the whole guide extremely helpful, and have now ended up using Syntax Highlighter Plus for WP Snippets – it did help that it was ranked #1 overall! However, given that Andrea Ercolino has updated WP-Chili since the review, I really might look into changing over!

If you are looking out for a good WordPress plugin that highlights code in colour/color for WordPress 2.6, then The Definitive Guide on WordPress Syntax Highlighter Plugins is definitely the article that you would not want to miss reading. To be fair, not every plugin has been updated recently (at least two are from 2007, and the most dated plugin in the list is Code Colorer from May 2007) but nevertheless, it is still an excellent guide worth archiving!

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