Reshaping the heroic image of Monkey King via multimodality: a hero is back

Hui Wang, Xiaowei Li

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Shortly after the screening of the animated film Monkey King: Hero is Back in China in 2015, the film immediately captured the nation's attention with a “humanized” image of China’s super hero, Monkey King, and jumped to be China’s top-grossing animated movie. A year later, the English translation of the film was released in the U.S., which, however, failed to grab any eyes on the American media. This paper investigates how the heroic image of Monkey King is shaped in the Chinese film and reshaped in its Chinese-English transformation and its underlying factors, with a view to unfolding the reasons behind the journey of Monkey King from myth to reality. It starts with transcribing the visual and the verbal modes of the film with Baldry and Thibault’s (2006) multimodal transcription model. By drawing on the Systemic Functional-Multimodal Discourse Analysis (SF-MDA) approach, it conducts comparative verbal (transitivity & modality) and visual analyses (distance, angle, gesture, and facial expression) of a 2-minute script of the film and its English translation, concerning the mixed emotional state of Monkey King after losing his magic power and being defeated by Evil Lord, with similar visual pictures, yet differing dialogues. Our analysis shows that distinct from the magical monkey with his mighty rod in its traditional sense, Monkey King in the Chinese film was presented as a helpless but still responsible hero, struggling with self-doubt; whereas in the English version, the visual and the verbal texts are combined to create a more humanized image, i.e. a frustrated and wasted monkey with emotional conflicts between rescuing and abandoning his mates after losing his magic power. The research findings are then placed in the GILT (Globalisation, Internationalisation, Localisation and Translation) scenario for discussion in relation to economies of translation. The paper argues that having undergone an internationalization process by putting the human to the super hero so as to be in line with the perception of heroes in modern society, the film is further localized by adding more “complexity and humanity” to the image of Monkey King in the Chinese-English transformation process in order to be tailored to the needs of the audiences in the U.S. In so doing, it highlights the impact of the forces of film production and distribution on the translation activity and its product.
Original languageEnglish (Ireland)
Title of host publicationMultimodal Approaches to Chinese-English Translation and Interpreting
EditorsMeifang Zhang, Dezheng Feng
Place of PublicationLondon/New York
Number of pages33
ISBN (Print)978-0-367-33196-2
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Publication series

NameRoutledge Advances in Translation and Interpreting Studies


  • heroic image
  • multimodality
  • Monkey King
  • Pratt


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