Interview: Restoring "The Monkey King"

2012-02-13 13:16:59        Chinese Films

Su Da

The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven, the Chinese classic made in the 1960s, is back, restored, presented in stereoscopic 3-D and shown to festival audience in the Berlinale. The film-makers were unable to travel to Berlin, but Film Business Asia chats to SU Da, one of two co-directors who led the project for two years.

Why make this new version?

We consider this film to be a national treasure, but it was made 50 years ago. We had seen it when we were young. But since then it has not been seen for a long time. We realised that with new techniques available today we could enhance the quality of the film and change the audience experience.

For instance, we have also recorded the music again with western instruments and gave it a richer, fuller sound. All this can help it find today's younger generation.

Were you the person who initiated this?

No, I don't have such power. Rather this was the idea of the Shanghai Film Group Corp and the Shanghai Animation Film Studio and is part of their long term strategy. The Monkey King is important for Chinese film and important for the SFG.

How did you select Technicolor as the technical partner in this?

We wanted a partner who has experience and the technology for this job and Technicolor has exactly this profile. It was involved in the restoration of the negative and also in the 2-D to 3-D conversion. And SFG and Technicolor have a joint venture partnership.

Was it converted to digital or to Technicolor's unique film-based 3-D system?

The old negative was digitised and restored, then converted to digital 3-D.

Restoring 200,000 frames sounds like a huge task.

Actually the upgrading and 3-D conversion were more difficult. Restoration involved removing scratches, dirt and spots.

How was the film upgraded and converted?

We had to do a lot of additional drawing as the new aspect ratio meant that every frame had to have new material on either side. We went back to the original layers because so many of the images are so beautiful. I'm thinking of the undersea sequence or the scenes with the ribbons. Just stop the film anywhere and it is a work of art.

Is it true that you speeded up the film too?

[The output] is still 24 frames per second. But the film is significantly shorter, it comes in at 90 minutes now instead of 110 minutes. That's because we speeded up some of the action scenes.

How different is the colour?

The colour of the new film is very close to the colour of the original. We hire four consultants and were very careful with the colour grading. Overall it may be a little brighter, but that only helps the 3-D as many people consider 3-D films to be too dark.

What was the cost of all this work?

We spent about $3-4 million.

Will that pay for itself?

We are very happy with the box office of the film in China and now we have interest from distributors around the world who want to release this in their territories – theatrically of course.

Source: Film Business Asia

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