The tumultuous period of Chinese history following the overthrow of the final Qing emperor opened the floodgates that at one point attempted to shield the country from outside, foreign, and hostile forces including the West, Russia, and Japan. Once this period of forced introspection ended, the quick death of the inheritor of China, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, inadvertently brought instability that saw a brief year-long restoration of the monarchy and a final decisive split of the country into various cliques that yearned for economic development to fuel their war machines to take China for themselves. Once the shooting stopped and Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the Peoples’ Republic of China, he inherited a country that rapidly advanced and connected with the outside world out of pure necessity and survival, giving birth to industries never seen before, such as a burgeoning animation industry in the nation’s port cities. As soon as it would come, this industry would be snuffed out, not before the self-aware production of the Chinese folklore tale of the Monkey King’ rise to power, titled Havoc in Heaven.
The film itself is a children’s movie, focused on the high-flying and incredible exploits of the Chinese folk hero, the Monkey King. As a character, the Monkey King is found in the dual Taoist-Buddhist story titled Journey to the West, which follows the epic of a monk traveling to India during the Tang Dynasty (the 16th century) to retrieve scriptures to spread Buddhist thought across China. At the onset of the journey, the monk frees the Monkey King, the legendary mischievous character, to aid him on his quest. The first few chapters of the epic detail the plot of the film, the Monkey King’s rise to power and rebellion against the bureaucratic Taoist heaven. After a legendary birth, the Monkey King quickly and continuously forces himself up the celestial hierarchy, and without spoiling the plot, becomes wildly powerful through trickster tactics.
In all, Havoc in Heaven captures the essence of a wholly Chinese cultural figure and puts it to an imported craft. While the composition of the film itself evokes feelings of Western cartoon films (the film came out only two years before the theatrical release of The Jungle Book), the music, scene design, and characters are all from Chinese culture. The sweeping stances coupled with traditional drums and instruments meet crescendo at the end of character movements, directly borrowing from Chinese opera. These opera themes are so prevalent that many characters are designed as if they were actors, representations of the characters while being the characters themselves.
Havoc in Heaven released in China in the year 1965. Only two years later, in 1967, the Cultural Revolution would gather enough steam to begin forestalling almost all animation in China. At the least, the cultural upheaval stifled the expressions of animators in favor of towing the party line in order to remain part of the cultural zeitgeist and not be persecuted. While there have been other great Chinese animations both before and since the release of Havoc in Heaven, none would have such an ironic end, as the trickster Monkey King eventually reaches his goals, and ends up rocking Heaven to its very core, with unintended consequences everywhere.
Havoc in Heaven Drinking Game Rules
Take a drink…
- When the Monkey King antagonizes someone
- Whenever a weapon is broken
- If the tempo of the music indicates a conflict
- After the Monkey King defeats the first enemy, take a drink. After the second, take two drinks. Continue this gesture for every enemy he faces.
Take this list as a suggestion, and drink responsibly. As always, enjoy the show.