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What Is The Original Story of ‘The Monkey King’?

The animated film The Monkey King will soon be available on Netflix. The movie is about a monkey with magical powers who sets out on an epic quest to vanquish demons in ancient China. 

While the film is a work of fiction, it does have some historical roots. It’s based on the novel Journey to the West, which was a fictionalized version of the real-life story of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang. It’s also considered the most popular work of literature in East Asia. 

The book was published in the 16th century, but the story takes place circa 629 common era, when Xuanzang embarked on his 17-year adventure from China to India to learn the true teachings of Buddha. The Asia Society called him “the monk who brought Buddhism east.” 

The significance of the story was that, at the time, the Chinese emperor forbade travel outside of the country because of ongoing conflicts with Mongolia, but he left anyway. 

Throughout his journey, he traveled what is now known as the Silk Road, a well-traveled path that serves as a metaphor for exchanging goods and ideas. He trekked through desert and mountainous landscapes and evaded megalomaniacs and ne’er-do-wells. 

According to the Asia Society: “The record of his pilgrimage helps us to study and understand Buddhism and the cultures along the Silk Roads.” 

The upcoming film stars Jimmy O. Yang, Jolie Hoang-Rappaport, and Bowen Yang.

Watch The Monkey King on Netflix beginning on Aug. 18, 2023. 

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