'Journey to the West' director dies at 88

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, April 17, 2017
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Legendary TV director Yang Jie died on Saturday at the age of 88. She helmed the most popular fantasy TV series in China, "Journey to the West."

Yang Jie, the director of "Journey to the West" TV series [Photo/ Weibo.com] 

Yang started to work in China Central Television (CCTV) since 1958 and became the TV networks' opera show director from 1961. She was assigned to direct the first ever fantasy TV series in China, adapted from the 16th-century Chinese fantasy classic "Journey to the West" between 1982 and 1988.

As one of the four great classics of Chinese literature, the novel is a greatly embellished recounting of a real pilgrimage made during the Tang Dynasty (618--907) by Buddhist monk Xuanzang, as he traveled to India in search of sacred scriptures. With a dragon-prince in the form of a white horse as his steed, Xuanzang is accompanied on his quest by three disciples, the "Monkey King" Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing.

The TV show began airing on CCTV since 1986 and became an instant hit, while Yang was still shooting and making more episodes along the way until 1987. Thus far, the TV series has been replayed almost 3,000 times every year on various Chinese TV channels and has received 6 billion views in the three decades. With the limited but relatively new special effects, the series received a viewership rate of 89.4 percent in 1987 and was still recognized as the best and most authentic interpretation of the novel.

Actor Zhang Jinlai, who played the Monkey King in the show and is known by his stage name Liu Xiao Ling Tong, and other principal actors also became household names in China because of the TV series, while the songs and scores of the show became memories of generations. The whole TV series adaptation is a cornerstone of the nation's pop culture.

"The death of Yang is a huge loss for China's TV industry,” Zhang said after he heard the news on Monday. "Director Yang Jie was not only my teacher to discover me, but also the mentor for my art and life. There would be no Liu Xiao Ling Tong if there were no 'Journey to the West' TV series, and you would never see Monkey King by me on screen. We will miss Yang forever."

Chi Chongrui, the actor who played monk Xuanzang in the TV show, revealed on Monday that Yang went into a coma at home ten days ago before her death. He helped find a doctor and hoped to bring Yang back. However, she didn't make it. "She was a very strong woman, and was a director who had my biggest respect," Chi said.

He added that Yang's family would like to remain low-profile handling Yang's funeral and posthumous matters.

Yang once wrote a book to share the insight of how "Journey to the West" was made, fighting and overcoming various difficulties including her physical pains, budget constraints and pressure from the relatively conservative executives then at the TV networks.

Due to the popularity of the TV series, Yang directed the sequel season of the original "Journey to the West" series. Filming began in 1998 and finished in 1999, and the new episodes were broadcast on CCTV in 2000.

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