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Why Netflix’s Upcoming ‘Journey to the West’ Adaptation is Making Chinese Fans Angry

A treasured epic folklore from China is about to get a new adaptation in the form of a miniseries for ABC, TVNZ, and Netflix and it has so far stirred some mixed responses from netizens.

The show, which is a New Zealand-Australian co-production, will be another retelling of “Journey to the West”, a renowned Chinese fable about a 7th-century monk and three fallen gods with mystical powers. The original story, attributed to Ming Dynasty novelist and poet Wu Cheng’en, is considered one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature.

Oddly enough, a quick glance at its new cast photo may be difficult for anyone to identify the show with anything Chinese at all.

According to Huffington Post, the updated version titled “The Legend of Monkey” will be a 10-part half-hour show, chronicling the life of teenage girl Tripitaka played by Luciane Buchanan, who is accompanied by three powerful fallen gods: Monkey played by Chai Hansen, Pigsy played by Josh Thomson and Sandy played by Emilie Cocquerel.

But while the new show has received a fair amount of excitement on social media upon its announcement on Thursday, the lack of Chinese actors in its casting has been met with criticisms from those who worry that this may be another case of whitewashing.

Among the main cast, only Hansen, who is half Thai, is of Asian descent.  One could argue, however, that the other cast members aren’t entirely white as well, so completely branding it as whitewashing may be inaccurate.

As Erin Chew of YOMYOMF points out, at least two other cast members are persons of color. While Emilie Cocquerel is indeed Caucasian, Luciane Buchanan reportedly has a Pacific Islander/Maori background, and Josh Thomson is of Maori background.

It may also be noted, that while the show is based on the Chinese classic, it will be more of a remake of the hugely popular 1970s Japanese series called “Monkey Magic”.

The version, which has been known for taking liberties with the characters and story arches, even precedes the Chinese-produced TV shows based on “Journey to the West”. This may explain why this new show looks unfamiliar since it is following the approach of the Japanese show and may even be a complete departure from the original epic. 

Of course, what can be difficult to deny is the missed opportunity the casting of “The Legend of Monkey” to aspiring Asian-Australian artists who would have made the new show at least closer to home. With an abundance of talented Asians out there, this show’s casting could have been done so much better.


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