The monkey king and the witch, brought to lifeIf children in the United States have Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, children in Asia have Sun Wu Kong, the monkey king, as their all-time dynamic superhero.
In this year of the monkey, Laughing Cats Korea, a production company, is presenting a color shadow-puppet play titled “Journey to the West: Monkey King and the White Witch” at the Jayu Theatre in Seoul Arts Center through Feb. 29.
“Journey to the West” is a famous novel that has been passed on through the generations since it was written in the 16th century.
The Chinese novel is about Sun Wu Kong, a mischievous and arrogant “monkey king” who is the ruler of Shuilian Cave. He rides the clouds, uses a magic staff weighing 13,500 pounds to defeat his enemies and is a master of 72 magical transformations.
With his power, Sun Wu Kong wreaks havoc in heaven, even in the presence of the Buddha, which eventually leads to him becoming a personal bodyguard and disciple to a Tang Dynasty monk named Xuanzang.
“Journey to the West” is about the adventures of the monkey king as he protects his master, Xuanzang, during a journey to India in search of the Sutra, or Buddhist holy scripture.
The puppet show brings to life an episode from the novel in which Sun Wu Kong encounters the White Witch, a thousand-year-old man-eating goblin and a master of transformation who is just drooling to get a bite of Xuanzang. As rumor has it, the goblin who eats the flesh of the monk will gain immortality.
“Journey to the West: Monkey King and the White Witch” is a joint performance by Japanese and Chinese puppet masters that debuted in 1988 and has been seen by two million people in Asia. The show has been performed more than 1,900 times in Japan alone; the only performance in Korea, before now, took place in 2000. Shadow puppetry in China has a 1,200-year history.
The show is approximately 50 minutes long, divided into six chapters. The dialogue is voiced by Korean actors, and the music is performed by Chinese musicians on ancient instruments.
The shadow puppets used in the show, numbering more than 80, are 0.8 meters (2.6 feet) to 1.2 meters tall and made out of thin, translucent skin from donkeys, cows and camels.
Tickets are 20,000 won ($17) to 25,000 won. Showtimes are 3 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 2 and 4 p.m. weekends, with no performances on Mondays. Children over four are welcome. Call (02) 766-6684~5 for more information.
by Lee Ho-jeong