Film gives tra­di­tion a mod­ern twist

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By XUFAN

Chi­nese mythol­ogy typ­i­cally de­picts a “nian” as a li­on­like crea­ture that lives un­der the sea or in the moun­tains. And once each spring, on or around Chi­nese New Year, it comes out of hid­ing to at­tack peo­ple.

Butin anewan­i­ma­tion fea­ture, the “nian” shows up in the hu­man world as heavy smog cov­er­ing the sky.

When this scene in Lit­tle Door Gods ap­peared on screen at a Beijing pre­view be­fore the film’s Jan 1 na­tion­wide release, mem­bers of the au­di­ence burst into laugh­ter.

It is lit­tle touches like this in the film — which fo­cuses on old tra­di­tions and mod­ern con­cerns — that has won the 103-minute fan­tasy movie crit­i­cal ac­claim.

Up to 160 an­i­ma­tors from Bei­jing­based Light Chaser An­i­ma­tion spent two and a half years to pro­duce the 1,940-take movie, which is now widely re­garded as hav­ing “scaled new heights” in the coun­try’s an­i­ma­tion film sec­tor.

For the movie’s di­rec­tor and scriptwriter GaryWang, the in­spi­ra­tion for the film came from his in­ter­est in “lit­tle fig­ures” and a dy­ing cul­ture.

AsWang says: “Many of the tra­di­tions cher­ished by older gen­er­a­tions have van­ished. Door gods is one of them.

“I was curious about how a ce­les­tial be­ing would re­spond if he is no longer wor­shipped by hu­mans,” says Wang as he ex­plains why he went ahead with the project.

“I have al­ways had more of an in­ter­est in grass­roots gods as com­pared with great gods, such as the rulers of heaven. The strug­gles of th­ese lit­tle fig­ures have al­ways fas­ci­nated me.”

It is tra­di­tional dur­ing the Lu­nar New Year, or Spring Fes­ti­val, to place paint­ings or stat­ues of men­shen (door gods) on or in front of doors to drive away evil spir­its. But in re­cent years the tra­di­tion has al­most van­ished due to rapid ur­ban­iza­tion.

De­spite its ap­par­ently sim­ple sto­ry­line, Lit­tle DoorGods has a se­ri­ous mes­sage for peo­ple — to ac­cept change or to re­ject it.

Set in two par­al­lel worlds— heaven and a hu­man town — the film is about two door gods’ ad­ven­tures sparked by a lay­off threat, as there are too many ce­les­tial beings in heaven. (Crowd­ing is a com­mon prob­lem for pop­u­lous coun­tries).

So in an at­tempt to re­vive de­clin­ing hu­man wor­ship and to prove his worth, the younger god re­leases an evil “nian”.

For­tu­nately, dis­as­ter is averted at the last mo­ment by the god and his el­der brother, and the duo also cre­ate hope for theirown­fu­ture.

The “good-tri­umph­ing-over-evil” tone of the movie gives it a com­mer­cial fla­vor typ­i­cally seen in Hol­ly­wood ti­tles.

For Wang, a founder of one-time ex­ec­u­tive of China’s stream­ing gi­ant Tu­, his eight-year ex­pe­ri­ence over­seas helped him give the movie a more global fla­vor, de­spite its very Chi­nese sto­ry­line and ap­peal.

Ex­plain­ing what helped him bring the two strands to­gether, Wang says: “I lived in the United States for many years, and then moved to France. So the greater the dis­tance from to the mother­land, the stronger the nostal­gia for over­seas Chi­nese like me,” he says.

Wang says that in China’s fast­grow­ing movie mar­ket the fu­ture will see a blend of Hol­ly­wood stan­dards and China’s unique cul­ture, tra­di­tion and history.

For critic ZhuXuan, the nar­ra­tion and rhythm of the film make it look like a Hol­ly­wood ti­tle, but ref­er­ences to Chi­nese cui­sine and South­east China’s folk dwellings make the film “fa­mil­iar” to Chi­nese view­ers.

The movie, fi­nanced by Baidu, Alibaba and Ten­cent, is one of the few do­mes­tic an­i­ma­tion ti­tles that got at­ten­tion from all the coun­try’s top In­ter­net be­he­moths.

Yu Zhou, the pro­ducer of the movie and also a for­mer part­ner with Wang in Tu­, says that their IT back­grounds were what tempted the In­ter­net gi­ants to in­vest in the movie.

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