The Monkey Staff: More Telling Than it Seems?
Alright, I originally had a super long post but I accidentally deleted the draft so here’s a slightly shorter version. (It’s still pretty long though)
So, in Xiaolin Showdown, Jack’s signature Wu is the Monkey Staff. Obviously, in America this basically just showcases his immaturity, comedic nature, and possibly marks him as lesser than the other characters (how often are misbehaved, reckless, and less mature/“evolved” people compared to monkeys? Answer: a lot). However, in the context of Chinese culture, this could have a very different meaning.
Taking into account that Christy Hui was born and raised in China, I’d bet real money that in likening Jack to a monkey, she was drawing a comparison to Sun Wukong (possibly even foreshadowing Jack’s future character arc).
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Sun Wukong, he is from an old story about the Monkey King. He is a monkey that declares himself 美猴王 and rules over a kingdom of monkeys. An aside, 美猴王 literally translates into “Handsome Monkey King,” but the kanji for “handsome” can also be read as meaning “to be proud of oneself,” referring to his large ego, and the “monkey” kanji also refers to his mischievous nature. Sounding at all like Jack yet?
Anyways, Sun Wukong pretty much starts off wanting to take over and get more powerful. Kind of like a certain evil boy genius that we know. Unlike our boy genius, however, Sun Wukong becomes a powerful demon king, whose deeds are known throughout the land. He fights with a staff that weighs 8.2 tons, and will change size whenever he commands it to. His skill in combat is unquestioned. (Both of these are very interesting details, since not only is Jack’s signature Wu the Monkey Staff, but Jack is also the first to make use of the Changing Chopsticks. Everyone else initially dismisses that Wu as less useful than the others, but Jack finds a way for them to be useful; this ties in neatly with Sun Wukong’s size-changing staff.)
But more than that, Sun Wukong is a troublemaker at heart, and causes all sorts of grief for Heaven. He defies the cycle of reincarnation and the Lords of Death, fights the four Dragon Kings, and makes alliances with other demon kings. The Jade Emperor eventually tries to make Sun Wukong more manageable by giving him a position in Heaven, but makes the mistake of giving him the lowliest job: that of the stable boy. Sun Wukong gets fed up with it all and, after finding out about a feast he was not invited to, steals royal wine, Longevity Pills, and Peaches of Immortality. He fucks off home to plot his rebellion against Heaven and defeats the entire army of Heaven when they try to apprehend him.
Kind of like how when Jack becomes an apprentice at the temple, the monks mistreat him and make him do all their chores, and ends in Jack making off with their Wu. Though obviously Sun Wukong is really extra when he defies Heaven.
The Jade Emperor gets the Buddha’s help to handle the troublesome Monkey King; the Buddha bets Sun Wukong that he cannot escape from his palm. Sun Wukong bounds to the end of the world, where he finds five pillars. He think he’s won the bet, so he signs his name on one of pillars and pisses on it. Too bad for him, the celebration is premature, and the pillars are actually the Buddha’s fingers. The hand closes and Sun Wukong is imprisoned beneath a mountain for five hundred years.
Sun Wukong is finally released after he offers his services to aid a monk going on a pilgrimage to India to retrieve the Buddhist sutras. He accompanies and even befriends the monk, successfully protecting him and completing the journey. Upon his return to China, Sun Wukong is granted Buddhahood and is granted the title “Victorious Fighting Buddha.”
Okay, so maybe there are a few personality similarities between Jack and the Monkey King, and maybe there’s the whole staff thing going on. But what about Sun Wukong’s incredible fighting prowess? What about defeating Heaven’s army? Well, remember there’s that thing that when he uses the Monkey Staff, Jack becomes a far better fighter and is nearly impossible for the monks to defeat.
Jack, his monkey army, his staff… kind of makes me wonder… plus there’s the bad future where Jack takes over the world and even defeats Chase, a 1500 year old demigod figure. Almost reminiscent of successfully fighting and defeating Dragon Kings and literal gods, or at least, as close of a parallel as you can get in Showdown…
And what about all the trouble he caused for everyone in the Showdown world? Despite being just a mortal kid without magic at his disposal, Jack’s also remarkably resilient, and still manages a victory once in a while. Heck, if nothing else, he’s able to mobilize every other antagonist from the series to go after the monks. That itself is no small feat. If you tilt your head and squint a bit, you can kind of see Sun Wukong making alliances with other demon kings… sort of
And moreover, the tale of the Monkey King can be traced back to old stories about white Gibbons from southern China.
Let me repeat that.
The story’s origin is legends of Gibbons, which were revered in China, especially those whose coloration was white. Gibbons were popular subjects of paintings, and were thought to be able to live for hundreds of years and turn into humans. Despite the fact that they are tailless, and classified as lesser apes rather than as monkeys, as the story developed into that of the Sun Wukong, it lost its original primate subjects and instead starred tailed monkeys.
But what an interesting origin… primates (esp those of white coloration) that were native to southern China and supposedly could turn into humans… Definitely brings Jack and the Monkey Staff to mind.
So that leaves me with a fundamental question: why? Why compare Jack Spicer to the Monkey King, and what does that mean about the direction his character was supposed to go in?
As far as I can tell, there were two main paths it could’ve been setting up for him to take. One is that Jack gained power and prestige, becoming a king in his own rights. I somehow can’t see this happening. What with his severe villain decay from the beginning to the end of the show, I think Jack would’ve taken the second route. Jack may have suffered villain decay, but that opened up the possibility for embarking on a hero’s journey.
We’ve already seen how much Omi believes in Jack’s goodness. In fact, several characters have remarked how Jack isn’t really that evil, just annoying. Most notably, we have Hannibal on record saying that Jack is only a generation away from being good, which is pretty 👀👀👀 even considering that Bean is taunting Jack. From what we’ve seen, Bean is a competent villain and a good judge of character. Ultimately, I’m convinced that Jack was actually meant to join the Xiaolin, and I actually think it would’ve been great all around.
Now, I love Jack as a villain, really, I do, but if Jack were to stop being forced into the role of comedy relief, something would have had to change. And maybe that something could have been Jack Spicer: Dragon of Metal.
It would definitely have made for some good character exploration and development for the monks, too. They’d have had to reassess how they see not only Jack but all the people they fight. It’d force them to confront their morally grey actions and realize that Jack’s a person, a kid like them, and that maybe they sometimes were too harsh in their treatment of him.
Also, we could’ve gotten a whole lot of fun interactions as everyone tried to get used to Jack being one of them now.
And this would still be totally in line with the story of Sun Wukong; he’d start off as a troublemaker, then be forced to grudgingly help a monk and end up befriending him (in this case probably Omi). For Jack, becoming the Dragon of Metal would have been like attaining Buddhahood was for Sun Wukong. He didn’t set out to do that, he didn’t want it per se, but somehow he ended up hanging with the right crowd and became Good.
Also I just really, really want Jack to be happy and have friends.
But unfortunately, this is just speculation about what could have been, and I’m not even sure how right it is. Hope you enjoyed reading anyways.