Chinese New Year: Celebrating the Year of the Pig

5 Feb

The Chinese New Year begins on February 5, marking the start of the Year of the Pig. I decided to look at some of my favorite pig characters from popular culture, most notably Porky Pig of Looney Tunes fame and the trickster pig character, Pigsy, from the classic Chinese text “Journey to the West.” In that story, Pigsy, a pig demon who lusts after human women, starts out as an antagonist of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, but is defeated by him and agrees to join Wukong and the Tang monk on their journey to India to acquire sacred Buddhist texts to bring back to China.

I have several different film and TV versions of the Monkey King saga, covered here previously during the Year of the Monkey three years ago. Here’s how I described the initial meeting with Pigsy, a tale that’s often dramatized on film:

There are several incidents in the story that have been adapted more often than others. The tale of how they meet Pigsy is the one I’ve seen the most often. Wukong and Tang come to a village where a monster terrorizes a family and demands the hand of their daughter, a beautiful maiden, in marriage. Wukong transforms himself into the maiden to lure the monster into a trap and only then do we learn that the monster is Pigsy, who is frightened when Wukong confronts him and is shamed into apologizing and joining the pilgrimage as atonement. Pigsy is generally treated as a comical character.

In THE MONKEY GOES WEST (1966), the first in a four-film series of Monkey King movies from Shaw Bros., Pigsy (“Bajie” in Mandarin) is initially seen in human form as a rich, rotund merchant who has managed to convince a miserly rich man to grant him his beautiful daughter’s hand in marriage, despite the love of the daughter (Diana Chang) for a poor scholar who happens to be her cousin. Sun Wukong (Yueh Hua), needing lodging and food for himself and his master, the Tang Monk (Fan Ho), sees a way to manipulate the situation to his benefit but also to turn the tables on the pig demon. He uses his magic to transform Pigsy back into pig form on his wedding night, horrifying the poor bride, and then strikes a hard bargain with the miser to grant him everything he asks if he’ll rid him of the pig forever. So that night, Wukong transforms himself into the maiden when the pig comes back and eventually battles him into submission and forces him to join them on the mission and carry all their provisions. (As part of the agreement, the maiden and the scholar are allowed to marry.) Peng Peng is quite convincing in the part of Pigsy, with just the right body for it, and only required makeup on his nose and ears. He’s actually quite charming in the part and sings a lot of his dialogue, Huangmei Opera-style, in his early scenes. The duet he has with his “bride” (a transformed Wukong) on his second trip to the wedding night boudoir is particularly delightful.

And a short time later, Pigsy, back in human form, returns to the boudoir again, only to find a newly compliant “bride,” thanks to Wukong’s transformation.

Ever a sucker for the ladies, Pigsy shines in a later sequence in THE MONKEY GOES WEST where he falls under the spell of the Green Snake Spirit (Kao Pao Shu) and her three lovely daughters and is enticed into betraying his companions.

Pigsy would show up in the three sequels, PRINCESS IRON FAN (1966), CAVE OF SILKEN WEB (1967), and THE LAND OF MANY PERFUMES (1968), always played by the same actor, Peng Peng. He frequently slows the journey down with his laziness and susceptibility to seduction by female demons.

Pigsy has an amusing scene in THE LAND OF MANY PERFUMES where he takes the form of the monk so he can gain access to the palace of the Empress of the title kingdom, all female, and flirt with the Empress and her entourage, displaying some very unmonk-like behavior, which means that the actor playing the monk has to play Pigsy pretending to be the monk.

SAIYUKI (1960) was a Japanese animated feature based on the Monkey King saga and produced by Toei Animation. It was released in the U.S. by American International Pictures in an English-dubbed version, entitled ALAKAZAM THE GREAT. An early sequence tells the story of Pigsy pretty much the way it’s told in THE MONKEY GOES WEST, except that Pigsy remains a pig throughout the scene but executes a number of instant costume changes.

He later helps out by wielding the famous Iron Fan:

PRINCESS IRON FAN (1941), an animated film made in China under Japanese occupation, also included Pigsy as a character.

The Japanese animated series “Dragon Ball” (1986-89) incorporates many elements of the famous saga in its adventures featuring Son Goku, a Monkey King-type alien boy from the planet Vegeta who has extraordinary powers but no knowledge of his origins and was raised, Superman-style, by an elderly Chinese martial artist, Son Gohan, who rescued him from the tiny rocket ship that brought the rambunctious baby to Earth. After the death of Gohan, Goku goes out into the larger world to fend for himself and figure out how to get along with humans. Episode #4, “Oolong the Terrible,” turns Pigsy into Oolong, a lecherous boy pig who can transform himself into all kinds of horrific forms in order to terrorize the inhabitants of a remote farm village and abduct their teenage daughters. When Goku arrives, he challenges Oolong, who has no appetite for fighting, and finds out his secret, ultimately forcing him to show the villagers where he’s been hiding the girls—in a stately villa where they live luxuriously, making incessant demands on Oolong, who gets nothing in return.

Oolong is initially reluctant to join Goku and his traveling companion, the buxom teenage genius Bulma, who has recruited Goku to help her locate and retrieve all seven of the magical dragon balls. But when Bulma makes a provocative suggestion to him, he gives in.

Now we come to Porky Pig, the pig character I’ve known the longest and seen the most often, in dozens of Warner Bros. cartoon shorts made from 1935 to 1965 and in various animated TV specials and features in the years since.

Porky was the only true everyman character in the Warner Bros. cartoon pantheon. (Elmer Fudd sometimes took that role but was more often a villain antagonizing Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck with a shotgun or a foil for them, only rarely the protagonist.) Porky was not a trickster like Pigsy and only on rare occasions did he encounter trickster characters, such as the elusive Do-Do in “Porky in Wackyland” and its remake “Dough for the Do-Do.” (Porky and Bugs, Warner’s true trickster, appeared together in only one of the Golden Age cartoon shorts.) Porky was most often a seemingly average citizen, owning both a home and a car, who was constantly harassed by annoying pests like Daffy Duck, with whom he was sometimes paired as a reluctant companion, or Charlie Dog, who wanted Porky to adopt him. Sylvester the Cat appeared as Porky’s pet in a few cartoons directed by Chuck Jones.

I liked Porky best when he got the better of his antagonists, as in “Boobs in the Woods” (1950), where Daffy proceeds to make life miserable for Porky on his camping trip…

…only to be faced with this at the end:

And then there’s “You Ought to Be in Pictures” (1940), arguably Porky’s finest moment, which is set in the live-action world of Leon Schlesinger’s animation unit, situated away from the Warner Bros. lot, and features Daffy urging Porky to quit his cartoon job and act in features opposite Bette Davis. Porky falls for it (all a plot by Daffy to get Schlesinger to give him bigger parts) and heads off for a disastrous trip to the main studio before he comes back and makes amends with Schlesinger, who plays himself, and gets back at Daffy.

The scene where Porky first enters Schlesinger’s office to discuss breaking his contract and interacts with the real Schlesinger looks forward to a scene shot for the promotion of the aforementioned SAIYUKI, in which the Monkey King enters the office of the head of Toei Animation in 1960, 20 years after the Porky/Schlesinger meeting.

In my previous blog entry, I wrote about Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and the Super Sentai series which inspired it, Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger. A pig monster figures in a Zyuranger episode that was later remade for MMPR. Zyuranger #8: “Terror! Eaten in an Instant” features a monster called Dora Circe, supposedly from ancient Greece, who is conjured up by Witch Bandora (Rita Repulsa) and unleashed on a gluttonous family in Tokyo. It proceeds to eat all their food and then invades local restaurants until the Zyurangers figure out a clever way to cut him down to size with some spiked food.

Some of the fight footage is re-used in MMPR #6: “Food Fight,” which also adds newly shot American scenes featuring the pig monster, now dubbed Pudgy Pig, invading Angel Grove High School’s International Food Fair and eating all the students’ offerings.

There are other popular pig characters in animated and live-action films from Hollywood, but I’m less interested in the cute and cuddly variety, so I haven’t re-watched any of the following in several decades: Disney’s Winnie the Pooh cartoons featuring Piglet; CHARLOTTE’S WEB (1973), based on the children’s book by E. B. White, which tells the story of a little pig named Wilbur who was born a runt and befriends a wise barnyard spider named Charlotte; and the live-action Babe films from Australia, BABE (1995) and BABE: PIG IN THE CITY (1998), which mostly used CGI to create the title character.

Finally, there’s a great scene involving a pig at the end of the Daffy Duck cartoon, “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery” (1946). Daffy dreams about being a great detective who solves the mystery of the theft of all the piggy banks in town and ends with him hugging and kissing his piggy bank only to wake up and…

The pig gets the final line, “I loooooovvve that…duck.”

And we’ll let Porky get the last word:


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