Neil Gaiman Writing Monkey King Films

He's been in China for research...

If you’re a fan of writer Neil Gaiman, you might have noticed that he’s been spending some time in China recently. Well, now the reason for this latest trip has been revealed – he’s signed a deal to write English scripts for a planned trilogy of 3D animated epics based on the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West.

Gaiman is collaborating with respected Chinese TV producer Zhang Jizhong, who has long harboured a dream to get the misadventures of the Monkey King on to the big screen. He and Gaiman spent some time during the writer’s latest trip hashing out which of the 2,000-page story’s plot will be distilled into the movie scripts. Before any screenplay is written though, Gaiman will produce an outline to pitch to investors, and with the hopes of hooking a high profile director. Guillermo del Toro’s name is apparently sitting on the top of their wish list and James Cameron may get involved in some capacity.

The story follows a Buddhist monk who faces various challenges on his pilgrimage across China to India and while it’ll hold plenty of appeal for Chinese audiences who grew up with the tale, it’s well known enough here and in the States, particularly via the books and the Japanese Monkey Magic shows that were popular back in the 1970s.

“We have to do what Peter Jackson did with Lord of the Rings,” Gaiman tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We have to make it filmic, non-episodic. This story is in the DNA of 1.5 billion people. To the West, there’s nothing inherently not interesting about Journey to the West. It has the best bad guys. That’s absolutely universal.”

Coincidentally, Gaiman’s first trip to China happened in 2007 when he was working on a book about Journey to the West, and ended up putting it aside when he couldn’t crack the ending. Now, after meeting with Jizhong, he has some ideas that can let him finish it at last…