is a loose (very loose) Japanese TV adaptation of Wu Ch'eng-en's 16th-century collection
of Chinese fables, which was re-dubbed into English in the early 1980s and became required viewing for a whole generation of schoolchildren. The titular monkey (played with great enthusiasm, not to mention athleticism by Japanese comic actor and former rock star Masaaki Sakai) accompanies boy-monk Tripitaka (confusingly, a pretty actress called Masako Natsume) on his/her quest for the Indian Sutras. They pick up Sandy (Shiro Kishibe), Pigsy (Toshiyuki Nishida) and a dragon that becomes a horse along the way.
The appeal of Monkey! is easier to experience than explain. It's an occasionally surreal blend of Oriental fable, knock-about martial arts, pop Buddhism and slapstick comedy. The frequent comic fight scenes are accompanied by a 70s disco-fusion soundtrack, and a narrator (English voice: Frank Duncan) uses gaps in the action to deliver inscrutable snippets of wisdom ("Even a starving camel is still bigger than a horse", "Does love mean labour even for the carp-hearted?"). Best of all, though, is the dialogue: without regard to any lip-synch niceties, the English script (by David Weir) is full of idiomatic delights, jokes and double entendres ("I can use it as well", boasts Monkey of his staff that grows from a tiny stick into a big pole. "Ooh, I never doubted it, passionate primate", purrs the Dragon Princess into his ear, "go on, make it bigger"). All are delivered by British actors in hilariously cod-Japanese accents (distinguished thesp Miriam Margolyes is the voice of Tripitaka). Bad special effects crown the show's cheesy, retro appeal. ----Mark Walker
The first thirteen episodes of the cult Seventies action series. In 'Monkey Goes Wild About Heaven', King Monkey (Masaaki Sakai) disgraces himself after being summoned to Heaven. He and two officials get into an argument and end up being sent back to Earth as a punishment - Monkey is imprisoned under a mountain, while the others are transformed into a pig monster, Pigsy (Toshiyuki Nishida), and a water monster, Sandy (Shiro Kishibe). 'Monkey Turns Nursemaid' sees Monkey set free in order to help holy man Tripitaka (Masako Natsume) on his quest to save the world. In 'The Great Journey Begins', Monkey protects Tripitaka against both Pigsy and Sandy, both of whom end up joining them on their journey. In 'Monkey Swallows the Universe', Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy must protect Tripitaka from the demonic Golden Horn and his wife. 'The Power of Youth' sees Tripitaka kidnapped by the immature King of Youth. In 'Even Monsters Can Be People', Tripitaka punishes Monkey by sending him away when he thinks his protector has slain an innocent girl and her parents. However, Monkey's victims were in fact demons disguised as humans! 'The Beginning of Wisdom' sees Pigsy offering to sacrifice himself to save a village from a terrible drought. In 'Pigsy Woos a Widow', the porcine Casanova turns the charm on a pretty widow, who, in turn, is infatuated by Tripitaka. In 'What Monkey Calls the Dog-Woman', Monkey discovers the true intentions of a group of bandits, whilst Tripitaka, Pigsy and Sandy are terrorised by a dog-woman innkeeper. In 'Pigsy's in the Well', Tripitaka and his three disciples set out to prove that the man ruling as king of Cickrow is in fact a murderous magician imposter. 'The Difference Between Night and Day' sees Monkey rendered powerless when he falls in love with a pretty young girl, while Pigsy defects to join the evil creatures of the night. In 'Pearls Before Swine', Monkey and company promise to help the inhabitants of a land ruled over by three evil immortals. And finally, in 'The Minx and the Slug', Pigsy disguises himself as the slug monster husband of the beautiful Hai-Min.