In The Forbidden Kingdom, screenwriter John Fusco has extracted elements from the following Chinese legends and novels and devised these into an original screenplay.
The Monkey King
One of the most well-known and popular characters in Chinese mythology, the Monkey King, is the main character of the Chinese classic novel "Journey to the West" by Wu Ch'eng-En, who was a scholar-official in the 1500s. Hailed as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, it is based on the true story of a famous monk, Xuan Zang of the Tang Dynasty.
Legend has it that the Monkey King was born out of a mystical rock weathered by the elements over many centuries. Upon jumping through a waterfall on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, he discovered the Water Curtain Cave and was proclaimed as the Monkey King by the other monkeys for his feat. Although initially elated, he soon realized that he would someday face death and began to seek immortality. He traveled on a raft to new lands seeking a way and eventually became a disciple of Subhuti. Under the Patriarch's pupilage and with his intense intelligence and determination, he soon mastered the boundless powers of transformation and achieved the ability to transcend form and existence with up to seventy-two different forms. He could even take flight on clouds, traveling by leaps and bounds of some hundred and eight thousand miles in a single leap.
To the displeasure of the Patriarch, the Monkey King began boasting to his fellow disciples and so they parted ways. He then discovered a magical staff (stick-shaped weapon) called the "Ru Yi Bang". Originally an unmovable treasure used by the Dragon King of the Sea Palace to keep the ebb and flow of the sea balanced, the staff extended from undersea into the high heavens and weighed some seven thousand kilograms. Under his powerful control, the Monkey King shrank the staff at will, reducing it into the size of a needle and took it with him, causing an upheaval in the undersea.
In a bid to tame the Monkey King, the Great Jade Emperor, the only authority over the heavens, the seas, the earth and the subterranean world, invited him to the Heavenly Kingdom with the offer of a promotion and title, but was instead met with rebellion. The Monkey King gobbled up the Empress' "Peaches of Immortality", Master Lao Tzu's "Elixir of Longevity" and wrecked havoc in the Kingdom. He was now virtually invincible and indestructible. The heavenly figures of authority that were dispatched to subdue him met with little success as the Monkey King easily defeated them as well as the Heavenly Army of a hundred thousand soldiers.
The Monkey King was eventually captured through the combined efforts of numerous celestial warriors and sentenced to capital punishment. Impenetrable by all swords and weapons set upon him, he was thus, banished to be burnt in a sacred furnace of flames. Left burning for forty-nine days, the cauldron suddenly exploded and out emerged the Monkey King, now full of blind rage and more destructive than before.
Having exhausted all avenues, the Great Jade Emperor then turned to the Buddha himself for help. The Buddha wagered a bet with the Monkey King that the latter would not be able to jump out of his palm, and if he lost the bet, he would be banished to mortal Earth for centuries to learn lessons of humility. Smug and certain he could do it with his cloud-travel skills, the Monkey King accepted the bet and demanded the Great Jade Emperor's title if he won. He then took his greatest leap and reached what he perceived to be the ends of Heaven, where he saw nothing but five pillars. To prove that he had won the bet, he arrogantly wrote on one of the pillars - "The Great Sage, Equal of Heaven, was here" and took his irrepressible behavior a step further by urinating on another pillar.
When he returned to face the Buddha, the Monkey King was shocked when shown his own writing on the Buddha's middle finger. Indeed, he had never left the Buddha's palm. Having lost the bet, the Monkey King turned to escape but the Buddha transformed his five fingers into the great Five Peak Mountain consisting of the five elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth) and imprisoned The Monkey King, who remained trapped under the great mountain for the next 500 years.
Eventually, the Monkey King was given a chance at redemption when the Buddha sent him on a mission to accompany and protect Xuan Zang on his quest to retrieve Buddhist sutras from India. Thus began the epic allegorical and adventure tale of "Journey to the West".
The Eight Immortals
As a legendary group of immortal beings well known in Chinese mythology and secular Chinese culture, the Eight Immortals are revered by Taoists and widely considered to be symbols of prosperity and longevity. With the power to transform, each Immortal possesses his or her own unique power to give life and destroy evil.
The Immortals are:
- Immortal Woman He (He Xiangu), the only female deity of the group and believed to be a health goddess with the power to improve one's mental and physical health.
- Royal Uncle Cao (Cao Guojiu), said to be the uncle of the Emperor of the Song Empire with a jade tablet that has the power to purify the environment.
- Iron-Crutch Li (Tieguai Li), easily identifiable by his gourd bottle and iron crutch. Li's soul emanates as a vapour cloud from the gourd.
- Deity Lan Caihe, armed with a flower basket containing flora and is associated with longevity.
- Lu Dongbin, the most widely known of the group of deities and who is also considered by some as the de facto leader.
- Philosopher Han Xiang (Han Xiang Zi), who is devoted to the study of Taoism and possesses a flute with the power to give life.
- Elder Zhang Guo (Zhang Guo Lao), who is regarded as a master of Taoist breath regulation (Qigong), and also known to be the most eccentric immortal with a penchant for wine.
- Zhong Li Quan, the official leader who is recognized by his bare chest, his belly and his magical fan that can revive the dead.
The Bride with White Hair
In the 1954 martial arts novel by Leung Yu-Sang, which was made into a feature film in 1993 by Hong Kong director Ronny Yu and director of photography Peter Pau, the story detailed the ill-fated love between Wu Tang clan swordsman Cho Yi-Hang and Lien Ni-Chang, the top assassin for the rival Supreme Cult.
The heroic Cho falls for his nemesis, Ni Chang, who in turn comes to love him, a man she was ordered to kill by her master. A misunderstanding leads to Ni Chang believing that Cho has betrayed her and results in her long hair turning white in an instant. She became known as the Bride With White Hair (White-Haired Demoness) and turns into a man-hater, viciously killing off men who cannot pit their skills against her prowess.
Meanwhile, in despair and in a bid to win back Ni Chang's love, Cho climbs a mountain and waits for ten years to pick the "majestic flower" to return Ni Chang's glorious hair to its original black. The rose blooms only once every twenty years and is believed to be the cure for any illness.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Jackie Chan and Jet Li, the two most revered martial arts superstar actors in the world today, have come together for the very first time in filmmaking history to pit their skills in The Forbidden Kingdom as Lu Yan and the Silent Monk respectively.
In this one-of-a-kind project, producer Casey Silver has not only succeeded in bringing together an exceptional group of people, including some of the best talent in Asian and Western cinema, for the first truly international Asian blockbuster movie. He has also pulled off a great feat in making the entire film in China.
This epic production is written by veteran screenwriter John Fusco, whose past works include the Academy Award-nominated Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and directed by Rob Minkoff of The Lion King fame, who brings his unique blend of character, comedy, drama and storytelling to the enthralling and innovative time-traveling story structure.
In this spectacular and unpredictable epic action-adventure tale, Boston teenager Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) confronts the toughest journey he has ever faced in his life - one which takes him through ancient China, facing battles with murderous Jade Warriors, the villainous Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) and the indomitable one with no remorse and no conscience - the White-Haired Demoness (Li Bingbing). Last but not least, Jason experiences first love with a revenge-bent female fighter (Liu Yifei).
Executive producers are Ryan Kavanaugh of Relativity Media for Lionsgate, Raffaella De Laurentiis, Yuen Wo Ping, and brothers Wang Zhongjun and Wang Zhonglei for Huayi Brothers Pictures. The behind-the-scenes creative team includes production designer Bill Brzeski, editor Eric Strand, visual effects supervisor Ron Simonson and costume designer Shirley Chan. Music for the feature is by David Buckley.
Martial arts offerings of recent years have mostly been rather somber affairs with bigger and bigger production budgets and lofty aspirations to be the next runaway success the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. However, the direction set for The Forbidden Kingdom is very different.
Producer Casey Silver explains, "Unlike previous martial arts films, Rob's tone as a storyteller is peppered with a whimsical playfulness and a comedic bent. He understands romance and he understands emotions. He has been able to depict the classic hero's journey consisting of thematic underpinnings with a humorous tone which is what we wanted to achieve."
Also, unlike previous productions, the filmmakers have attempted to make a movie that is not targeted at a specific audience, but to make it fun and enjoyable for the entire family. Director Rob Minkoff attests to this, "People have been taking martial arts films too seriously. So this film will be something that everyone can enjoy - kids, teenagers, their parents and their grandparents."
Silver affirms, "There are so many different characters that different segments of the audience can connect with, I am sure there is something in it for everyone."
Action superstar Jet Li, who has two young daughters, sees the wide appeal of the film as a definite plus point, "Having made so many violent movies in my career to date, I thought it was about time I made a film that families with children will be able to enjoy together. This is the film that I am making for my two girls."
By harking back to the most outstanding Chinese legendary characters like the Monkey King, the Bride With White Hair and the Eight Immortals, Fusco and Minkoff have turned the unlikely and challenging combination of Eastern elements with a Western interpretation into an inspiring playoff.
Actor Michael Angarano surmises, "This has to be the ultimate adventure for anybody. It is classic martial arts, with a blend of Chinese cinema, literature, tradition, history and actors, but with American storytellers - a mix that has never been seen on film. And this, combined with the ultimate timeless story about a boy who, finding himself in a totally unfamiliar world, journeys and grows to become a stronger and better person, is what's mesmerizing."
All these, together with the most exciting action stunts imaginable from the world's top martial arts maestro Yuen Wo Ping, and the arresting cinematography of Academy Award®-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon director of photography Peter Pau, culminates into the ultimate martial arts movie.
"Making the first film in which Jackie Chan and Jet Li are starring together is in itself already special. But being both a martial arts film and a contemporary American film makes this film unlike any martial arts film before. All we want to do is to make a good movie; a fun, good movie that will appeal to both the East and the West, and I think we have done it," surmises executive producer Raffaella De Laurentiis.
Actor Collin Chou rounds up, "This is such a great production combination. We have the world's best director of photography and action choreographer, the best producers, screenwriter and director. Last but not least, we have the two best martial arts superstars in the world - Jackie and Jet. How do you top this?"
The Forbidden Kingdom is thus brought to life as the martial arts action-adventure movie audiences all over the world have all been waiting for.
About four years ago, veteran screenwriter John Fusco started concocting a bedtime story for his young son who shared his father's love for Chinese martial arts novels and kungfu cinema. Nightly, Fusco would make up a chapter that followed the time-travels of a bullied American kid who gets transported back to mythical China and is charged with the quest of returning a lost fighting staff to the Monkey King of the Chinese legend. As the boy embarked on his journey to the East, he would encounter other characters from both classic Chinese literature, martial arts legends, and even kungfu cinema.
When Fusco shared this enigmatic story with producer Casey Silver on the Moroccan set of their 2004 film Hidalgo, Silver responded immediately. "When John told me about the bedtime story he was telling his son, I was completely enamored and saw that it would be a great idea for a movie. So I commissioned him to write a screenplay based on the story and we worked on it together for a year," says Silver.
Having studied Korean martial arts at the age of thirteen, a year before the "Kung Fu" TV series and the films of Bruce Lee created an explosion of martial arts popularity in the U.S., Fusco has an unwavering interest in martial arts and its philosophy. So it comes as no surprise that his childhood love of Chinese culture and martial arts has found its way into The Forbidden Kingdom.
Says action superstar Jackie Chan, "You can tell that John is deeply mesmerized by Chinese culture and Chinese kungfu movies from the way he has incorporated all the different characters into one movie, from the Drunken Master, the Heavenly King, the Monkey King, the Eight Immortals, the Bride with White Hair, just about everybody. So when I first heard the story from Casey three years ago, I was sold by the ideology of how we can convert this tale based on ancient Chinese legends starting out from Chinese culture to become world culture."
Fusco is definitely no stranger to stories that explore cultural myths and legend. Whether in the rich tradition of American blues that was featured in Crossroads, the Wild West as seen in Young Guns and Hidalgo, or the Native America poignantly depicted in Thunderheart, Dreamkeeper and the Academy Award-nominated animation Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Fusco passionately researches the history behind such legends and adeptly weaves them into his screenplays.
"I was deeply motivated to introduce such rich Chinese legends as the Monkey King to a global Western audience for the first time in the history of filmmaking," says Fusco. "By bringing back some of these classic Chinese ideas and characters, we hope to expose Chinese culture and history to a whole new audience who aren't so familiar with these classic legends and characters. If we can get the younger generations and the Western moviegoers to develop an interest in exploring these classics further after watching the movie, we would have achieved our goals," professes Fusco.
Actor Michael Angarano who stars as the time-traveling teenage protagonist says, "Honestly when I read the script, it was all new to me, the legend of the Monkey King and the rest of the characters. But once I had done the research and made myself more familiar, I could not wait to be a part of this film." He continues, "The composite of all these ancient Chinese legends, folk stories, culture and history, both real and fictitious, made it really exciting. I simply fell in love with the story and the entire journey that my character goes through."
The other actors were similarly inspired by the unusual structure and derivation of the film.
Chinese actress Li Bingbing who plays the White-Haired Demoness (otherwise known as the Bride With White Hair) comments, "This is a film which has incorporated a Western point of view to traditional Chinese mythology and culture. Visually, the imagery of the Monkey King and the White-Haired Demoness may be as they are, but what you cannot begin to imagine is how John and Rob have injected their interpretation of these characters together. So you can be sure there will be plenty of surprise elements in the film."
The other acting villain Collin Chou adds, "It is pure ingenuity for John to develop such a smart idea for a screenplay. By using the Monkey King as a basis and through adapting and interspersing different characters from the many well-known Chinese legends, he has created a totally unique story. Brilliant."
With contribution from the three directors Rob Minkoff, Yuen Wo Ping and Peter Pau to complete the narrative vision, the end result of this compelling combination of adventure and a hero's journey, mysticism, martial arts, history, action, romance and drama, armed with a dream cast and creative team, set in exotic locations in China and with visual effects completed in Korea, can be nothing short of phenomenal.
"It is John's original story and he deserves all the credit for composing such a fantastic screenplay. We hope that this movie inspires young people in a positive way," producer Casey Silver concludes.
Although born in Waterbury, Connecticut, John Fusco left home at 16 years old to travel the American South in search of authentic Delta blues music. He composed original songs and performed in road bands until he was 21 when he returned to night school and received his GED. Intent on pursuing his first love of dramatic writing, Fusco was accepted into NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. His first two student screenplays won national awards, the second becoming the 1986 Delta blues cult film Crossroads.
Fusco would then go on to write the box office hit Young Guns (1988) and its sequel Young Guns II (1990). His deep interest in Native American subject matter would lead to his writing Thunderheart (1992), the Academy Award-nominated Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2000), the ABC mini-series Dreamkeeper (2003), and the Arabian horse race adventure Hidalgo (2004) for which he received the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America.
Fusco also wrote the novel "Paradise Salvage" (Simon and Schuster), a multi-generational coming-of-age tale that has been published in seven countries.
No stranger to stories that explore cultural myths and legend, it is no surprise that Fusco's childhood love of Chinese culture and martial arts has found its way into his most recent original script, The Forbidden Kingdom. Fusco began studying Korean martial arts when he was 12 years old, a year before the "Kung Fu TV" series and the films of Bruce Lee would create an explosion of martial arts popularity in the U.S. While always more interested in the philosophical side of martial art, Fusco longed to study Chinese kungfu but could not find the authentic art until 7 years ago when he began studying Northern Shaolin Kungfu with a sifu in the U.S.. He has since studied in China with Shifu Yi Shen Guo.
Fusco's next projects include Wolf Brother, his adaptation of the popular young adult novel for Ridley Scott, a contemporary remake of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai for the Weinstein Co. and a new original screenplay The Cage, set in the world of Mixed Martial Arts.
He lives on a farm with his wife and son in Northern Vermont.
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