The Monkey King 2

by Scott Wheeler, Journeyman Make-up Artist

The Monkey King 2 is the action-packed family film from director Pou-Soi Cheang. It is one of China’s biggest domestic box-office hits for 2016, out-grossing Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Shaun Smith headed up the task of creating the many make-ups for The Monkey King 2. The plot follows three fantastical characters through their journey to protect the Monk from the Bone Demon and her three beautiful demon girls.

As our own Business Rep Tommy Cole can tell you, back in the days on The Mickey Mouse Club, Wednesday was a special day. It was “anything can happen day.” Every day on The Monkey King 2 was Wednesday. This was especially true since we didn’t do weekends. Imagine for a moment, doing an epic film where every character is an elaborate, large-scale make-up, each character has matching stunt doubles, the stunt unit and the main unit operate independently from each other and there is no script and no schedule. Really! Not making any of this up. We had an outline but no actual script. We had estimates on how long the show would shoot (which ended up being off by a few months) but we never had actual strip boards, day-out-of-days or anything like that. It was not a job for the faint of heart.

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The Bat Demon

It is no exaggeration. Every principal character in The Monkey King 2 is a large-scale make-up. The lead character, the Monkey King, was played by Aaron Kwok, and his make-up was applied by Stephan Dupuis. The Monkey King make-up was comprised of two silicone appliances, teeth, contact lenses, multiple lace hairpieces and a wig that blended his make-up to a full-body muscle and hair suit. The tail was digital. The Monkey King had several stunt doubles applied by various people but primarily by local Beijing artist “Caroline.” When Stephan was not available to do the application, Ralis Khan filled in for him. This make-up had to survive long days often ending in extreme close-ups that are featured throughout the film.

Gong Li, arguably the greatest actress in the history of Chinese cinema, played the Bone Demon. The Bone Demon is an evil porcelain-skinned beauty in the tradition of Chinese cinema, with hair rising six inches above her head and extending nearly to the floor in layers resembling an Escher-esque structure. Each day, it took the hair team three hours to build this look from scratch onto a wire frame using more than 50 wefts of hair. The make-up was a multilayered airbrush make-up finished with pearlessence and clear sheen to enhance the illusion of translucency. The Bone Demon also disguises herself as an old peasant woman. We had to build this make-up in China in our closet-sized, makeshift make-up effects lab. It was a seven-piece overlapping silicone prosthetic and Pros-Aide transfer make-up with a custom lace wig. Her make-ups were applied by Scott Wheeler and Shaun Smith.

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Clockwise from top left: An old woman, the Bone Demon, the Snake Demon and Zhu Bajie, the piggy character.

Our piggy character, Zhu Bajie, provided comedic relief for the film. His pig face and body was created with silicone ears, a silicone nose and a full-on beer belly silicone appliance. Luckily,  he was willing to shave his head for the character. Patrick Baxter did the application.

The Sand Monk or Sha Seng was a massive muscular bald-headed Himbo demon with a large black beard and blue skin. The daily make-up was tackled by Ralis Kahn. Toward the end of our shoot, Shannon Shea took over for Ralis. There were many unique and challenging design elements to this make-up. It had to look organic despite being very stylized in form and in color. Trying to find a way to make a massive muscular bald character with a large black beard and blue skin look believable was no easy assignment. We went through several paint schemes before finding the combination of blues and other fleshier colors to create the look. The make-up consisted of a foam rubber bald cap, a silicone forehead prosthetic, an integrated full upper body foam rubber suit and a lace beard. This character was only supposed to work 10 days originally, but since every day was “anything can happen day,” he ended up working 60 days.

Monkey King II Bald Cap
The bald cap

Even our one principal character that was actually human, ended up being a big make-up. That being a bald cap with no collar in the back of the costume. This bald cap ultimately, was shot in extreme close-ups at the end of the day during one of the most dramatically important scenes of the movie. To make matters even more complicated, our actor requested that we not put any glue in his hair. For these most critical scenes, we did a double bald cap and a latex cap covered by a vinyl cap. The latex cap gave us the tension and strength we needed to push down his hair, create a good head shape and give us a glue down that would last for the long day of shooting. The vinyl cap further enhanced the proper head shape and gave us a better cosmetic finish with superior edges.

The stunt unit was headed up by legendary martial artist Sammo Hung. In China, legendary martial artists are highly revered and get carte blanche as stunt coordinators/second unit directors. So on any given day, we could have the any or all of our main characters working on our principal unit, along with fully made up and suited stunt doubles on the second unit which were often shot in close-up. And to make matters even more complicated, these various make-ups could be working at different locations, at any hour of the day and would often travel to and from the two different units as they were needed by the two different directors. Given their autonomy and shoot-from-the-hip approach to filmmaking and stunt choreography, the stunt crew would go through our foam rubber body suits like a hot knife through butter. We were scrambling to rebuild these suits on a daily basis while rush ordering new suits from Los Angeles. This became a repetitive routine since we could not get any kind of estimates from either unit as to how many days each character would eventually work. What started out as a build of three Monkey King suits turned into 10, after stunts literally tore through all of our suits in a matter of a few weeks. It was even worse for the Sand Monk. To accommodate this intense, ever-changing, massive erratic workload, we found ourselves sometimes working 20 to 30 days straight. There are no weekends in China. Every day was Wednesday.

The biggest challenge and in many ways, the most original and innovative make-ups we did, were three full-body beautiful demon make-ups. One of the many challenges these make-ups presented was to keep them elegant despite being complicated full prosthetic demons from head to toe. We strove to preserve the natural beauty of our actresses while taking them far away from the human form and coloration. Each demon had a distinct character, a bat, a snake and a porcupine. We kept the overall color scheme in the ghostly pastel range with specific accent colors and patterns for each demon. The porcupine had hundreds of individual quills glued in her back and head prosthetics. For the snake and porcupine, we brought the actresses in days ahead of time, put the actresses in body stockings, pre-glued their prosthetic backs, legs and shoulder pieces, blended them and then scissored out all extra body stocking.

Screen Shot 2016-12-15 at 9.08.15 PMThis gave us a form-fitting pre-assembled and pre-painted large body prosthetic. On the days they worked, this full piece was completely glued onto their bodies. We did this to prevent the large piece/body stockings from buckling when they moved and also preserving as much of their underlying form to create an illusion of a smooth continuous demonic body with no trace of any kind of costume. The Bat had silicone arms, foam rubber breast and privacy prosthetics, along with a full back prosthetic. All three demons had full foam rubber prosthetic cowls and silicone facial pieces to blend the elaborate cowl designs into their faces. Once all the separate elements were glued on and blended, we tied everything together with airbrush coloring and an airbrushed beauty make-up that used the same colors and patterns as the full-body paint scheme. Scleral contact lenses, acrylic teeth and claws completed the look. Each demon make-up took about seven hours from start to finish. Everyone on the crew came together to take part in this dance under the leadership and direction of Dan Rebert. On our first day, with all three demon girls working together, along with our piggy and Sand Monk, we did their make-ups for seven hours, shot for 22 hours. Then, ended the day with a four-hour make-up removal. One of our demon girls was so exhausted that she literally fell asleep, standing up and had to be caught before hitting the ground.

Despite all of our obstacles, challenges and surprises, we managed to bring to the screen an epic movie with a wide array of epic make-ups. It took the best efforts of everyone involved to make it happen.•