80049 Dragon of the East Palace: Cultural Context and Hands-On Review

The Palace of the Dragon of the East Sea is a key location in both the animated series Monkie Kid, as well as in the classic novel, The Journey to the West. Set 80049 Dragon of the East Palace focuses on the original story, which tells of how the Monkey King gained his staff, while also providing references to the animated series. Let’s take a look at the set, one of the more splendid builds from the Monkie Kid range – due for release in June 2023. In fact, you might almost mistaken it for a castle set!

At the time I received this set (kind thanks to the LEGO group for sending it over for an early review: all opinions are mine), I had not spent any time reading The Journey to the West. I had watched the 1978 Japanese production of Monkey, featuring dubbed English dialogue, back when it was screened in Australia as an evening show for a few years in the 80s. But not since then. So I relished the opportunity to return to the source.

The Set in Context

How does this set fit into the ancient tales, as well as the new series?

In Monkie Kid, with the Monkey King’s Staff in the hands of Lady Bone Demon at the end of season two, the team go in search of a weapon that will enable them to defeat her. At the start of Episode 2 of season 3 (imaginatively titled ‘Dragon of the East Sea’), the Dronecopter crashes into the sea. Monkey King, also known as Sun Wu-Kong, recalls visiting this kingdom years ago, and that this is where he got his Staff. Shenanigans ensue.

But what happened with Sun Wu-Kong’s first visit? I went back to the original source material (well, an English translation of Journey to the West) to read about the Monkey King’s encounter with the Dragon King of the East Sea. This occurs fairly early in the book, conveniently wedged in between his achieving mastery of 72 magical transformations, achieving immortality and then ascending to the heavenly realms.

Monkey King goes under the sea and introduces himself to the Dragon King as a neighbour.

He requests a weapon from the Dragon King’s armoury. The Dragon King offers him swords, spears and halberds, but Monkey King realizes that the dragon is trying to trick him with flashy weapons, that are of little use. So he complains that they are all too light or clumsy to wield.

Eventually, he selects a rod made of divine iron, which was used to beat out the Milky Way. Monkey King is able to resize it by wishing it to be smaller, eventually reducing it to the size of a needle which he can tuck behind his ear ( Does anyone else who watched Monkey ‘back in the day’ remember colouring in a matchstick to take to school the next day?).

Ever the ungrateful guest, Monkey then demands to be clothed, and the Dragon King calls on his brothers from the North, South and Western seas, and they provide the Monkey King with clothes. He leaves, insulting them as he goes.

In the Box

Opening the box, we have 17 numbered bags, and one unnumbered, containing some larger plates and a small bag of sea creatures. The three instruction manuals and the sticker sheet are to be found in a cardboard envelope. The stickers are printed on transparent stock, and feature an extremely high level of detail, both as decoration or as signage.

There are three solid books of instructions, and the first provides some background to the original story, as well as comments from the designers, John Ho and Xiaodong Wen.

Regular readers might look for the elements laid out: Proceed to the end of the review if you wish to see the elements knolled out (Thanks again to Ann, the Knoller in Chief, for once again setting them out.) Regular readers might also notice a change in my review format. Let me know what you think.

Let’s take a look at the minifigures:

I was somewhat intrigued when I read the Minfigure names on the box of the set – Dragon of the East, MK, Monkey King – All simple enough. Turtle Minister, Crab General and Shrimp Soldier all look like fun characters – and indeed, the Shrimp soldiers bare a slightly redder resemblance to the palace guard seen in the episode – and I started to wonder… Are these just made up for the LEGO set?

Not at all. I had started reading a recent translation of The Journey to the West, and during the Monkey King’s visit to the Dragon King, he does in fact, encounter the Crab Generals and Shrimp Soldiers.

The translated text specifically refers to Crab Generals and Shrimp Soldiers. There are also other members of the royal guard described in terms of the fish, crustacean or reptile that fills the role (whitebait guardsmen and eel-porters are specifically mentioned. So, it turns out that these characters are, in fact, the product of a 500-year-old imagination and not originally from the minds of cartoon writers and toy designers!)

There are 8 minifigures included in this set.

MK has a highly detailed tactical wetsuit, and features one black and one red arm. A black rubber air-tank for underwater survival attaches via his belt and slips over the top of the neck stud, allowing the scuba attachment to sit over his mouth. His legs feature dual moulding and have multiple carabiners, straps and reinforced stitching printed in the front. He has a double-sided face print and carries a camera . He has the standard tousled MK hair with a headband.

The Monkey King is wearing bright light orange and red robes with a yellow decorative motif (the plastic is yellow). The robe continues below the waist, where it is tied with a white cummerbund. He has one red and one yellow arm. A black neckerchief is printed on the torso. He also has dual moulded red and black legs, although his boots are of a simpler design. he has the requisite rubber tail, as well as a double-sided face print: one angry, another looking like he is trying to sweet-talk the Dragon King into handing over something valuable for nothing. He carries a simple wooden stick, as he did not have the wishing staff at the time that he first visited the Palace.

We also have a ‘standard’ LEGO skeleton, with sturdy arms and legs. While he is wearing handcuffs, it is not readily chained to the wall and might require a little modification to make this happen.

We have two each of the Crab Generals and Shrimp Soldiers: the crabs have short reddish-brown legos, while the Shrimp has full length dark orange/medium nougat legs. They all share a common torso, featuring plating and teal details printed on the golden armour. There is a teal bow printed on their throats, and they have teal hands (technically bright medium turquoise). They all feature a rubbery headpiece, printed on the front, while most details on the back are moulded. The rab generals have a wide, orange head element, with a disapproving expression, and an impression of a villainous moustache. The shimps have an elongated red moulded head, while their eyes are on stalks, and there are moulded whiskers. The expression on their face appears somewhat confused. Somewhat fair, given the Monkey King’s behaviour on both occasions that he visits the palace.

The Turtle minister has a [azure ] torso and the impression of part of his shell being hidden under his shirt. The collar and belt details are elegant, while it appears as though his shell is held on like a backpack. The shell is a nicely printed 2×2 dich. He has a lot of fine line work on his face, implying a long and distinguished career, and he also appears to have a small moustache. He has short dark blue legs, and wears a hat made of a truncated cone element mounted on a 1×1 plate with bars on 2 sides. He carries an elegant paint brush and scroll to take minutes at meetings and write down new proclaimations from the Dragon King..

Finally, the Dragon of the East. He has elegantly detailed teal and gold printing,on the torso, as well as his legs. He wears a teal cape, and has bright reddish violet hair and beard with a golden headdress. He carries a sword similar to Mei’s, but with a satin reddish violet blade, and a staff featuring a dragon’s head. He has dual facial expressions, including a surprised, open mouth, and a marginally sterner one, BUT it is hard to distinguish between the tow with the hair piece in place.

The minifigures have so much detail compared to what we see on screen. It was revealed at a round table meeting with Fan Media that design lead Xiaodong Wen designs the figures and sets up their concept art. This style is then simplified by the animation studio, while graphic designers realise how the more detailed final artwork will appear on the minifigures.

With such a splendid array of minifigures, I could not wait to see how the build came together.

The Final Model

The model is set over two levels, and while closed, there appears to be a highly decorated palace built atop a cliff face, with a gated stair leading the way to a small pavilion, as well as the pillar of the ocean. To the left, a large dragon waits to defend the palace.

The rock face splits apart, revealing the Royal Throne Room. and inviting the minifigures inside. Jade tiling leads up to the golden throne, while at the front, tables for a tea ceremony are on either side of the room. Golden filagree fences are folded down to lie in parallel with the sloped bricks beside the stairway. A large golden decorated coach wheel, is mounted above the throne.

Turning the model around, we see a number of other rooms, which are built up one at a time in the construction process.

We build up a (conference room) with chairs facing each other, with a picture illustrating the fable of the wise old man; a bedroom – with scrolls hidden under the elaborate bed. The front wall of this room features a family portrait of the Dragon Clan – East, West, North and South, with a sign reading ‘commemorate’ underneath. Placed on a transparent light blue window, it helps to lighten the front aspects of the model.

Finally, there is the armoury, equipped with swords, spears and clubs. I was delighted to see the small fence element return to its role as a weapons or minifigure accessory rack!.

A lot of the detail in the walls is achieved through the use of SNOT techniques, with panels constructed using fence elements, bricks and plates. Often, they are attached to bricks with studs on the side, while the panels behind the throne are held in place by sliding them into the gap in cut-out 2×3 plates. Candle elements are used to provide fine pillar detail in the throne room, just as they did in the construction of Rivendell.

As I mentioned earlier, there are two sliding panels which move outwards to reveal the throne room. One shows a detailed sea floor, including a bright green mop functioning as seaweed, while a translucent purple satin fern frond serves as coral (as does a regular coral element). The rock wall is decorated in a mixture of dark blue, dark tan and sand green, implying the muted light that you might experience at depth. A bag of bright light orange sealife brings us a brighter contrast when the model is closed.

When the model is opened up, a small cell is revealed at the rear.

Moving on to the upper level, it is apparent that it has been designed on a smaller scale to the upper, giving a sense of forced perspective. To the right of the model, a gated, twisting staircase leads up to a small pavilion, as well as the resting place of the Pillar of the Sea (although, this module of rockwork can be easily removed.) The Pillar – which becomes the Monkey King’s staff – is constructed around 2×4 half-circle panels and then extending up into a series of pearl gold wheel hubs to provide some grand detailing at the top end. Removing the pillar reveals a version that will be far more manageable for a minifigure.

A larger hall forms the upper level of the palace. Large, teal doors feature intricate designs in black and gold, provided by transparent stickers. It also features decorative panels and satin blue and pearl gold decorative elements, using similar techniques seen in the throne room. Shells, clouds, dragonheads and decorative flourishes decorate the roof of the palace. Both buildings’ rooves use alternating 1×3 slopes and 1×3 curved cutout slopes. This gives a pleasing effect with the shape of the roof – avoiding the ‘big flat slab of blue’, while not increasing the part count significantly.

To the left of the central pavilion is a dragon decorated in dark blue and pearl gold. The dragon holds on to a blue pearl with one hand, while the head is decorated with translucent and transparent light blue elements. Inside this central pavilion is the treasure hall, with gems and geodes on display.

The final build looks impressive while it is closed, but when it opens, revealing the splendour of the throne room, it is truly magnificent.

Building Techniques of Note

There were a few techniques used in the set which are worthwhile giving some further consideration:

The panels on the walls of the throne room, as well as the upper-level palace, are based on recurring module: mounted on their side, and attached to a couple of vertical SNOT bricks. The decorative fencing provides an elegant form, and using them on their sides is a clever idea, giving a new decorative form from an existing element. This is a reminder of the geometry of LEGO elements – where 5 plates are as high as 2 studs are wide. Or in this case, 4 studs = 10 plates.

The panels on either side of the throne are larger and are held in place using the cutout 2×3 plate.

Another feature of the lower floor is the use of technic beams, attached to the upper and lower levels of the palace, ensuring the model is held together in the vertical dimension.

I already mentioned the alternating roof tile/slope technique, providing textured roof line.

The set also features a recoloured version of 70880 Wave Rounded 1 x 4 with 2 Studs on Ends (Flame, Rock) – mainly appearing as flame in recent LEGO City sets, this element has been recoloured in both Dark Stone Grey, and Earth Blue in this set, and used to give the undersea landscape its unique shape.

My thoughts

I have long held the belief that virtually most sets in the Monkie Kid Range are reflecting Classic Castle or Space themes at their core, and this is very much the former. While the undersea location is certainly fantastical, it bears a greater resemblance to traditional palaces than, for example, that of King Triton in Disney’s The Little Mermaid!

I love the colour palette used here: white, gold, jade and a little lavender in the throne room; while dark blue , sand green and dark tan give the feeling of a deep undersea location. The temple and gazebo are resplendent with their blue and gold roofs, along with the satin finish detail. It has been a long time since plain-old bright blue (and not an azure, pale royal blue, medium blue or dark blue) has been featured so heavily in a set.

When designing sets for Monkie Kid, the designers are often making a choice between serving the original legend, or the animated series, and you can feel the reverence that the team feel for the ancient legends as you build and study examine this model. The primary focus of the set is the story of how Monkey first obtained his staff, while it also serves as a backdrop for aspects of series 3. The absence of Mae from this set, a key character in the episode, certainly demonstrates that this set provides an opportunity for families to share in the stories from Journey to the West. This is certainly the approach taken with 80024 the Legendary Flower Fruit Mountain and 80039 The Heavenly Realms.

During a conversation with members of the Monkie Kid Design and Production team, Design Lead Xiaodong Wen mentioned that there are sets in the range that fit in with the Monkie Kid Story – essentially continuing on the stories of Journey to the West – while there are others that introduce key locations in the source text, telling the stories of the Monkey King. This is very much one of those.

In considering the order of the build, it very much fits in with the order that the story is told: Monkey King arrives in the palace – entering the throne room – after enjoying hospitality from the Dragon of the East ( the two rooms on each side at the back), Monkey King enters the armoury, but is unable to find a weapon to his liking. Finally, he finds the Pillar of the Sea, the iron rod thatbecomes his staff. This technique of storytelling, step by step in the building process was also used in The Legendary Flower Fruit Mountain, where the build progressed through Monkey Kings early life, while scrolling from right to left – consistent with the direction that Chinese script is traditionally read. – as we see him progress from the stone egg to the Monkey King.

The build experience was logical, not too complicated, and featured some really interesting, if slightly repetitive, design motifs used as panels on their side, while the landscape, and additional fish make the underwater location feel authentic.

Although it has a slightly fantastical underwater location, the model feels like a castle set – with the secret cell; the moving caves to reveal the throne room as well as the armoury, and other locations to encourage role play. It would not take too much modification to convert the palace to a mountain setting, rather than ocean – if you were looking for an alternative way to display it. Indeed, it bears more than a passing resemblance to the fortresses and Palace from the 1998-99 Ninja line.

I appreciate that these sets are primarily designed for the Chinese Market, but this set features around 9 stickers featuring text in Mandarin. I personally had limited success with using online translation programs to translate the text and I think it would truly add to the educational value of the set for those of us who cannot read Chinese, if translations for the text in these sets were available – either printed in the instructions or online, accessible via QR code. I would not necessarily ask for the text to be written on the stickers in English, as I think this would detract from the overall design of the model. (most of these stickers have been photographed. If you can help, feel free to drop me a line.

If the ancient stories and modern cartoons aren’t your thing, there is still plenty to be gained from this model: a practical undersea palace which could be readily converted to a clifftop hideaway with a watchtower. Certainly, it is a great source of dark and Bright blue, as well as golden ornamentation.

Overall this model is appropriately grand for the price point. With 2364 pieces, this is one of the largest Monkie Kid sets released to date. It feels like a classy set, and the level of attention paid to the build experience, minifgures and the model itself all show. This is intended to be one of the flagship sets for the range, from the moment you open the instructions, to the moment you complete the pillar and slot it into place. I give this set 4.5 out of 5 arbitrary Praise units. So much about it is good. It is expensive, and unless you are in Asia, Monkie Kid sets are not typically available outside of LEGO.com. As such, discounts are rare. But, the set has 2364 parts, and a lot of them are, as you will see below, relatively sizable. You might find it good value from that point of view.

If you are interested in purchasing this set, please consider using our affiliate links. The Rambling Brick might receive a small commission, which goes back to help cover the costs running the blog.

I’d love to know what you think of this set, and Monkie Kid in General – why not leave your comments and questions below. I have a few more sets from the current wave to review, and hope to answer any questions you might have.

To keep up with the 2023 review season, come back soon, and follow the Rambling Brick on Instagram Facebook Twitter, and occasionally Tiktok for more information, and until next time…

Play Well!

Appendix: The Elements Knolled:

As you can see here, lots of blue bricks, arches and slopes; along with Dark blue curved slopes. Teal and transparent light blue also feature heavily, while white bricks are used for much of the model.

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