HONG KONG - Generations of Chinese grew up under the spell cast by Wu Cheng'en's "Journey to the West", the 16th Century adventure epic which is the subject of two major upcoming film adaptations.
Hopes are that the tale will continue to leave audiences spellbound, with shooting now wrapped on actor and director Stephen Chow's version of the tale and another starring "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" star Chow Yun-fat.
Lauded as one of China's "Four Great Classical Novels," it has inspired operas, including one penned by acclaimed British rocker Damon Albarn, a string of cinema hits dating back to the 1940s and a popular online game.
"'Journey to the West' is a story full of imagination," Chow told AFP.
"The plot is beyond any other fantasy," added the Hong Kong-based star, who is one of China's biggest box office draws with films including "Shaolin Football" (2001) and "Kung Fu Hustle" (2004).
As China's rapidly expanding film industry continues to break new commercial ground, Chinese filmmakers are increasingly looking to literary adaptations for their inspiration - with "Journey to the West" a time-honoured favourite.
Chow is putting final touches to his 110 million yuan ($17.3 million) adaptation, whose working title is "Journey to the West" and stars Chinese actors Wen Zhang and Shi Qi. It will be the third time he has used it as source material for a film.
It will come up against another version featuring heavyweights Chow Yun-fat and Donnie Yen in the Soi Cheang-directed 3D epic "The Monkey King", costing an estimated 400 million yuan and which is also in post-production.
Chow's fascination with the ancient text was first fuelled 30 years ago when he watched a grainy, black-and-white Cantonese film version of the tale in his local cinema house.
"I think the reason it is still relevant nowadays - and people still find it attractive - is all down to its imagination. Until now I still don't see it being surpassed."
It is the sheer scale of the source material available in the original text that has Chow returning to those pages once again.
"The story is so creative. Yet it is so orderly arranged and structured. On the one hand the creative process is just as free as a bird but on the other hand the framework of the story is very well organised. This is very unique."