I thought it was called Monkey Magic – on account of Godiego’s theme tune, “Monkey Magic”. Turns out – and I would only find this out many years later – that it was called Monkey. It was a fantasy/martial arts show – English voices dubbed over Japanese actors filmed in China. I think I’ve got those details right…And when I say fantasy/martial arts. It was also a comedy. And a horror.
But it was funny. Very funny. Hypnotic too. A magic show. We’d tune in to watch it – me and my cousins. We were probably too young to watch it, though I don’t remember it being challenging in a gore/horror/violent/scary way. It just seemed funny to us. Funny, mad, surreal – wonderful.
I’d learn – later – that Monkey was a cult show. I guess I’d learn this, first, through finding out, via half-conversations, the other people that had stumbled onto this show (we probably thought, as young kids, that it was playing only and ever for us). It was a hot topic in university hostel bedrooms and the nearly-cartoon lounges of our Young Ones-derived flats.
There was Monkey (“born from an egg on a mountain top”) and Pigsy, Sandy, “Horse” and Tripitaka. Tripitaka was the coolest character, or at least the most fun name to say. We’d take turns being Tripitaka, after, in between bounces on the trampoline. We’d try to do our own aerial stunts, half-flips at best, or simple knock-downs falling onto our backs and springing back up. We’d make the sounds – dramatic attempts at comedy-overdubs as we bounced back into life. And if you were lucky you got to be Monkey or Tripitaka.
The show was bright and loud and your brain burst trying to keep up. It was mad, nearly maddening but beautiful. Wondrous, absurd, bafflingly brilliant. The shapes and colours were always moving, the music was always clanging and it sped by, all of it – the action – dizzyingly so. We’d catch it, when we could, on Sunday afternoons. And the parents all thought we were bonkers for watching it. But it gave them some time to finish their quart bottles of beer, and to round off a hand of cards.
Just lately I’ve been returned to the world of Jackie Chan – via a box-set of his “Classics”. It doesn’t include some of my favourite Chan films but there is one or two in the set I haven’t previously seen. And the others (the likes of Police Story, Armour of God) are pretty wonderful; worth revisiting. I’ve got a Bruce Lee set to dive into next. Same deal, one or two I haven’t seen but re-watching the likes of Way of the Dragon will be no chore. Glad to have been presented the opportunity.
I realised – in watching these films, even in recently catching up with The Raid 2 – that my introduction to martial arts on screen was Monkey.
Before there was movies like Bloodsport (a staple at birthday parties, you’d watch it in the lead up to the pro-wrestling, and then again after if you were still awake) and the early Chan films, before I would get hooked on anything by Raymond Chow or Gordon Liu or the Shaw Brothers, and then – part-hooked for life, I’d return via Jet Li or Stephen Chow or Tony Jaa – there was Monkey.
Monkey was innocent – mindless – fun. But it would lead to watching Born To Defence. And to following Chuck Norris. It would lead me to the local video store…
A place I still love. As hopeful and hopelessly outdated as that sounds.
In my mind Monkey blurs with the very earliest experience seeing part of the original Planet of The Apes.
In my mind Monkey got me started – and hooked – on martial arts, the very serious stuff and the super-silly, over the top weird and wonderful.
To my mind it is the only pure cult show I’ve been hooked on. I’ve watched – and adored – plenty of cult films, Monkey being a partial catalyst. But TV shows? Not really. I mean, sure, there are loads of TV shows that get cut short – and/or buried in late night slots. You’re told after they’re cult shows. Freaks & Geeks, Herman’s Head, The Critic. All great shows. But they were still made for a mainstream audience – and played out, for the most part, in a conventional way.
But what the actual fuck was Monkey?
Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.
I dare not watch it again: revoltingly slow, botched, broken and still baffling but now not in a good way…no thanks. I’d like to hang on to the idea that it’s still wonderful. By never watching it ever again I can cradle that truth.
TV Shows That Meant The World To Me started life as a weekly series on the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page