Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Monkey Challenge: Hungry Like The Wolf

The penultimate episode in the order I have taken for the Monkey Challenge, Hungry Like The Wolf was actually the first of the 13 'lost' episodes I saw, back in the time before they were dubbed, when a subtitled version came free with a magazine.

While with most of the other episodes that I have cited evidence for why they were not considered for the original British TV run the evidence has usually been violence - particularly the series' disturbing tendency for hangings - here it is very clearly gratuitous (if brief) nudity, combined with cannibalism - though that at least is a common enough topic for the show.

Coming very early on in the episode, the Blue Wolf Demon (head demon-of-the-week) hungers for human flesh. When he can't get it then he has a limited supply of magic elixir that can turn animals into an acceptable substitute. We see him turn a pig into a naked human woman, who is then carried off and, presumably, eaten.

This elixir comes to be important to the plot as a whole. Naturally when he hears about Tripitaka then Blue Wolf Demon wants to eat him, but his minions are typically inept at fighting Monkey and co. So Blue Wolf Demon enlists the service of his former henchman, a wolf-demon called Full Moon trying to live as a human with a human wife and half-human-half-wolf-demon son. To persuade the unwilling Full Moon, Blue Wolf Demon uses the stick and the carrot - help him or his wife and son will be killed; help him and he can use the elixir to make his son fully human.

Full Moon is tempted by the carrot, but his attempt to capture Tripitaka is swiftly foiled and this leads to the pilgrims discovering what is going on and siding with Full Moon against his former master. Using the old 'pretending to have Tripitaka as a prisoner' trick leads into the final confrontation with Blue Wolf Demon. He ends up pitting his black cloud against Monkey's white. There is, of course, only one possible outcome to the ubiquitous cloud-flying duel when the episode's run-time is almost up.

This could be considered one of the most archetypal episodes of Monkey, since it contains so many of the tropes that the series uses again and again: Tripitaka is captured and is intended to be eaten; a demon in love with a human; concludes with a cloud-flying chase scene; etc. The one I haven't touched on so far but which can't really be overlooked is this: the demon-of-the-week has a ridiculous costume.

Blue Wolf Demon is well named - he's about as blue as the Cookie Monster, in a comically unthreatening wolf costume. His minions have black versions of the same, and even Full Moon fights in his demon-form, which makes him look far less menacing than his normal appearance. Finally there is Full Moon's son, who becomes a wolf-demon whenever he sees the moon - Yu Lung acts terrified when he sees this, but he's not fooling anyone that in this guise the kid is anything other than cute.

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