Movie mon­sters

Over the years, film­go­ers in China have griped that mon­sters por­trayed in Chi­nese films look like those seen in West­ern movies. But things could be about to change. Deng Zhangyu re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at dengzhangyu@chi­

Il­lus­tra­tors look to make crea­tures more Chi­nese.

Af­ter watch­ing Zhang Yi­mou’s film The Great Wall last week, Gu Meng was im­pressed by the army of Tao Tie mon­sters from Chi­nese mythol­ogy. How­ever, he com­plained that the Tao Tie in Zhang’s film were not “Chi­nese” mon­sters.

“They looks like West­ern ones with Chi­nese names. They have more in com­mon with mon­sters from Hol­ly­wood films, such as Godzilla,” says Gu, a pro­gram­mer in Bei­jing who loves mon­ster movies.

Gu is not the only one to feel this way. Many Chi­nese ne­ti­zens say that as the Tao Tie is seen as one of the four evil crea­tures — and is be­lieved to be the off­spring of a dragon, ac­cord­ing Chi­nese mythol­ogy — it should have been por­trayed as a sin­gle beast, in­stead of hoards of antlike beasts in the film.

But the com­plaints are not only about Tao Tie.

Chi­nese have long com­plained that mon­sters por­trayed in do­mes­tic movies look like those in West­ern films. That’s not sur­pris­ing, since many were cre­ated by West­ern com­pa­nies.

The Tao Tie in Zhang’s film, which is based on the Chi­nese lit­er­ary work, Clas­sic of Moun­tains and Seas, has been cre­ated by the New Zealand com­pany Weta Work­shop. Gao Xia, a con­cept de­signer with Weta Work­shop, who worked on ren­der­ing Tao Tie, says: “Chi­nese mon­sters are very dif­fer­ent from their West­ern coun­ter­parts. It is also more dif­fi­cult to por­tray Chi­nese mon­sters on screen be­cause of the cul­tural fac­tor.” Point­ing out some of the chal­lenges in­volved in cre­at­ing Chi­nese mon­sters, he says that, for ex­am­ple, the eyes of Tao Tie must be un­der the arms ac­cord­ing to mythol­ogy. How­ever, in the film they are moved to the neck. Re­fer­ring to Hol­ly­wood crea­tures, he says: “They must be anatom­i­cally per­fect. The veins of the mon­ster, the color of its skin, the mus­cles and even the par­a­sites in them must make sense.” An­other prob­lem with cre­at­ing Chi­nese ver­sions, he says, is that an­cient paint­ings that por­tray Chi­nese mon­sters of­ten use clouds and fire, and many mon­sters from folk tales and mythol­ogy only ex­ist in the writ­ten form, mak­ing them dif­fi­cult to por­tray. “Just like Chi­nese ink paint­ings, we put more stress on imag­i­na­tion,” says Gao. Speak­ing about the dif­fer­ence be­tween mon­sters from the East and West, Gino Acevedo, who has been in­volved in the cre­ation of mon­sters for films like The Lord of The Rings, The Hob­bit and Alien, says Eastern cul­ture is fond of the pow­ers of su­per­nat­u­ral be­ings, while the West turns to na­ture in­spi­ra­tion.

Acevedo him­self is a good ex­am­ple of a mon­ster ex­pert in­spired by na­ture.

His fa­vorite TV shows were all about an­i­mals. He loves lizards and snakes so much that he once raised more than 30 kinds of snakes and lizards in his bed­room.

The drag­ons he now de­signs are based on these rep­tiles.

His mon­sters of­ten have sharp teeth or long tusks, which he says are in­spired by croc­o­diles.

“I think ghosts and mon­sters from the East are more scary. They are su­per­nat­u­ral. And, some­times, even though they do not have eyes, they still know where you are.”

When it comes to the crea­tures that he finds mem­o­rable, he says that the ghosts and mon­sters from A Chi­nese Ghost Story, pro­duced by Hong Kong di­rec­tor Tsui Hark, im­pressed many West­ern­ers.

The film is about a love story be­tween a young man and a fe­male ghost.

Re­fer­ring to the size of the mon­sters, Acevedo says that those in the East have the same pro­por­tions as hu­man be­ings, but mon­sters in West­ern films typ­i­cally have big­ger for bod­ies to show that they are not hu­mans.

Acevedo says that, although the West has a long his­tory cre­at­ing mon­sters on screen, China can find ideas from its rich mythol­ogy.

Gao says that, af­ter work­ing with West­ern com­pa­nies, he feels it is now time for him and his Chi­nese peers in the film in­dus­try to look more closely at Chi­nese cul­ture.

He says this is be­cause, if you want to cre­ate a mon­ster to meet lo­cal tastes, you need cul­tural con­text.

This view is sup­ported by Yan Dingx­ian, 80, cre­ator of the Mon­key King and other mon­sters in the an­i­mated film Havoc in Heaven, which was made in the 1960s.

He says that it is a deep un­der­stand­ing of Chi­nese cul­tural el­e­ments like Pek­ing Opera, mytholo­gies and mar­tial arts that made the movie pop­u­lar with Chi­nese au­di­ences then.


Left: Mon­sters are typ­i­cally West­ern­ized like the one por­trayed in the 2015 Chi­nese fan­tasy film Chron­i­cle­soft­heGhost­lyTribe.

A fish-like mon­ster from the folk tale Madam WhiteS­nake cre­ated by Chi­nese artist Wu Jian’an.

A dragon de­signed by Gino Acevedo with wings and a body in­spired by sea horses.

Right: Bolg, an orc from the fan­tasy movie TheHob­bit:TheBat­tle­ofFiveAr­mies.

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