Creator of The Sandman comic book series and original author of popular novels-turned-movies such as Stardust and Coraline, Neil Gaiman easily ranks as one of the more accomplished fantasy writers currently in the biz. He'll next shift his focus from Western to Eastern folklore for an adaptation of the revered ancient Chinese parable, Journey to the West.
Chinese TV producer Zhang Jizhong is working behind the scenes on this $300 million project, and James Cameron will lend his expertise on technical matters - including, of course, shooting the potential trilogy of films in 3D.
Journey to the West is a 500-year-old tale by Wu Cheng'en that is based off the real-life pilgrimage of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang. The story follows Xuanzang as he eventually joins ranks with the magical Monkey King, a gluttonous pig spirit, a river-ogre, and the third prince of the Dragon King, on a quest to retrieve Buddha's scrolls from India - as a means (both literally and symbolically) of attaining enlightenment.
It's a fantastical yarn that is deeply rooted in Chinese folk religion, philosophy, mythology, and value systems in general, but Jizhong is reportedly conceiving the project as "the first true crossover Sino-Western epic," according to Variety.
Gaiman traveled recently to the Yunnan province for inspiration, and had the following to offer - with regards to possible complaints about his adapting a story so unique to Asian culture:
"There is nothing inherently Greek about 'The Odyssey.' These are big stories that work with people. There are 2,000 pages filled with adventures. The delight and the challenge is to write a story that for 1.4 billion people is in their DNA."
Jizhong is currently on the lookout for a filmmaker to helm Journey to the West, which will be funded primarily by Chinese backers and shot using a mixture of Asian and Western (read: Hollywood) stars. Guillermo del Toro, a good friend of Gaiman's, is high on the directors wish list - although the recent collapse of his At the Mountains of Madness adaptation might've put a damper on del Toro's inclination to become involved with another high-concept, massively-budgeted film project right now.
The source material is an excellent fit for Gaiman's sensibilities as a writer, and Journey to the West will definitely feature a big name director, when all is said and done. It may be a while before any solid progress is made on this adaptation, seeing how Jizhong is primarily experienced in the television, not the film, medium. There's also the matter of garnering enough financial support from Hollywood studios to cover half of the estimated $300 million production budget.
We'll keep you posted on the development of Journey to the West.