Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Wednesday, 15 February 2006

Monkey magic casts spell in Asia

Original 1978 Monkey hero Masaaki Sakai
The original 1978 series still has a faithful following

An ambitious remake of Japan's most successful television drama Saiyuki (Monkey) is causing a stir across Asia.

The new version of the 1978 drama broke ratings records last month with one in three Japanese viewers tuning in.

Companies in Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore have secured rights and makers Fuji TV have had inquiries from Thailand, China and Malaysia.

It is based on a 16th Century Chinese myth following hero Monkey's journey to India to obtain Buddhist scriptures.

The fantasy drama, first broadcast by Japan's Nippon TV Network, was a mix of lavish special effects, witty performances and martial arts.

The remake has remained faithful to many of the original elements - the fighting stick that shrinks to fit inside the human ear and the magical cloud that Monkey uses to travel great distances.

Fuji Television's most significant decision was to cast Shingo Katori as the show's hero.

Mr Katori is one of five members of SMAP - one of Japan's most popular boy bands. The Japanese heart-throb will be the first actor to play Monkey after Masaaki Sakai more than 25 years ago.

Modern Monkey

However, Monkey purists may be disappointed by the new version. The opening scene of each old episode that retold the legend of his birth from a stone egg on a mountain has been dropped.

The scene where Monkey achieves immortality by gorging himself on 9,000-year-old peaches will also not be included.

A dubbed version of the original was shown in the UK on BBC Two in 1981.

An undisclosed British TV company has secured the rights to the new 11-episode remake and will broadcast the show later this year, reports say.

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