A New Kind Of Monkeying Around

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One of the best things about Netflix is just scrolling through the available titles. Between recommendations based on your viewing history, what’s popular, and just scrolling a bit too far through the list of a particular genre, you can find some hidden gems from time to time. I absolutely love stumbling onto something I wouldn’t have normally gone out of my way to look for and being pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Last weekend I decided to try out something that had caught my eye. With only 10 episodes, each approximately 25 minutes long, it was easy to power through The New Legends of Monkey. This Australian Netflix Original Series is a fun retelling of the Chinese classic Journey to the West and follows the adventures of Tripitaka (Luciane Buchanan), Monkey (Chai Hansen), Sandy (Emilie Cocquerel), and Pigsy (Josh Thomson).

Personally, I have only a basic understanding of the original source material.  The book itself is currently sitting on my shelf among all of the other books I bought over the years that I have not yet gotten to on my reading list.  That being said, I vaguely remember watching a cartoon series based on Journey to the West as a child, and thanks to pop culture references I am not entirely clueless about the subject material.  So I cannot say whether or not this new show has remained faithful to the original text by recreating the themes and/or plot points, or if it has merely used the basic characters as a point of inspiration.  In fact, due to the casting choices as well as the style of the show, the series feels like it is the product of both Chinese and Australian influences, and it has obviously taken a more modern approach to certain aspects of the story.  So it is accurate to the text or the time period? Probably not. But it is still a really fun show.

Visually, it looks as if the bulk of the budget was spent on hair/makeup and costumes, rather than the set.  Compared to some of the other Netflix Original Series that are a bit flashier, this show clearly doesn’t have the same budget as the sets are relatively simplistic and the CGI backgrounds are obviously computer generated.  But the characters themselves look gorgeous.  I particularly enjoyed the hair/makeup and costumes of the gods and demons – as inhuman entities they tended to look a little flashier.  And I certainly found myself eyeing some cosplay-worthy characters.

Speaking of which, this show has a surprising number of strong female characters.  I’d argue that there’s really only one featured female character who isn’t that impressive, and she only shows up for one episode.  Not only are there some really badass ladies playing demons, humans, and gods, but the main cast is also features female characters.  I find this important as the original source material features four men going on this journey – in this version of the story, Tripitaka the warrior monk and Friar Sand/Sandy are both women.  Tripitaka, however, disguises herself as a young male monk in order to achieve her goals (as the name “Tripitaka” is significant for her quest). And when it is revealed to the other characters that she is, in fact, a woman, they do not have an issue with the fact that she is cross dressing.  The real issue is that she essentially stole someone else’s name and lied about her identity – but the other characters quickly decide that her actions prove that she is a good person and that, in the end, it does not matter whether she is male or female since she has been successful in her mission thus far.

Overall, I’d say this show might not be for everyone.  It is fun and lighthearted and a little silly at times.  I’ve seen some people on Twitter say that it is trash TV and that they love it because it is so silly.  I’m inclined to agree as it can be very silly, although I certainly wouldn’t go as far as to call this show trashy (but then again, I have often been told that I have questionable taste when it comes to movies and TV).  It is fun to watch and relatively quick to binge-watch and sometimes that is all that matters.  It was a great way to pass the time last weekend and now that I have had an insanely busy work week I find myself wishing that there was a season 2 so that I could binge-watch even more this weekend.  I definitely had a lot of fun watching this show and if you need a pick-me-up I absolutely recommend it.

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