Chinese Animation Revitalised
When it comes to full length animated movies, most people tend to think of Disney, Dreamworks or Japanese anime. However, Chinese animated films—once influential all around the world—are now returning to the mainstream.
This summer's The Wind Guardians ( Fengyuzhou), is once again bringing Chinese animation to the big screen. When it comes to full length animated movies, most people tend to think of Disney, Dreamworks or Japanese anime. However, Chinese animated films— once influential all around the world— are now returning to the mainstream. By adopting a distinctive Chinese aesthetic, adapting stories from Chinese classic literature, myths and legends, and utilising traditional art forms such as ink paintings, Chinese New Year paintings and Peking Opera, Chinese animated features are starting to receive increased recognition and are gradually developing into a force that cannot be ignored.
The Wind Guardians
Thousands of years ago, four great beasts who had terrorised humanity since ancient times were sealed away by the ancient Xialan heroes using a secret “wind spell.” A millennium later, just as one of the four beasts, Taotie, was poised to return, it was discovered that the “wind spell” had been lost. At that time, an optimistic young blind man by the name of Lang Ming was living happily with his mother until one day they were attacked by the beast Raksha and his mother disappeared. Lang then embarked on a journey to discover the truth. With the fate of the world at stake, the legendary Xialan emerged...
The Wind Guardians, directed by Liu Kuo, is adapted from the magical martial arts animated television series Xialan which ran for six years. The Xialan are a group of magical heroes tasked with guarding the world, each controlling one of the five elements: gold, wood, water, fire and soil. The Wind Guardians inherits the world view of the TV series Xialan, which is rooted in Daoism. The energy structure of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements; images of the ancient beasts Taotie and Raksha; the oldworld village buildings; and the warm and resonating story all highlight typical Eastern aesthetics. However, compared with the animated series, The Wind Guardians was forced to squeeze the story into a much shorter timeframe. Unfortunately, that left the twist regarding Lang Ming's fate feeling quite abrupt, and the villains seeming underdeveloped, making the whole story into a superficial fight between good and evil. Overall however, Thewindguardians is still an extremely well-made film. From the script and the drawings to the music, the film is 100 percent made in China, and so has been regarded as another milestone in Chinese animated films and one that presents authentic Chinese culture.
Monkey King: Hero is Back
Five hundred years ago, the Monkey King was born from a magic stone. Having gone on to wreak havoc in the Heavenly Palace, he is eventually punished and imprisoned under Wuxing Mountain by the Buddha. One day, the mountain demons attack a small village who then chase an orphan boy named Jiang Liu'er who has saved a little girl. He runs into the Wuxing Mountain where he inadvertently releases the Monkey King. Having now regained his freedom, the Monkey King only wants to return to his Flower-fruit Mountain, but unable to unlock the seal on his wrist and because he is indebted to Liu'er, he must escort the boy back to Chang'an City. The demon king lays a trap and easily catches the little girl after he discovers that the Monkey King is powerless whilst he still has the seal on. The Monkey King feels so devastated from his lack of powers that he decides he is no longer willing to help rescue the girl. Therefore, Liu'er resolves to go on his own. On the day of a total solar eclipse in Xuankong Temple, just as the demon king is preparing to hurl the boys and girls into a furnace to make his elixir, Liu'er rushes inside...
Monkey King: Hero is Back (Xiyouji zhi dasheng guilai) is a 3D animated film based on the traditional Chinese novel Journey to the West. It tells the story of the Monkey King, who after being buried beneath Wuxing Mountain for five centuries, is inadvertently saved by Jiang Liu'er, a child who grows up to become a Tang monk. Together, they set off on a series of adventures, looking for self-redemption. Compared with other Chinese animations, the most striking feature of Monkey King: Hero is Back is the use of Hollywood's classic three-act structure. The film brings together this classic story and martial arts from the East, with popular 3D special effects and creates a family-friendly movie for all ages. After its domestic release on July 10, 2015, the movie quickly proved a hit with both audiences and the media. As well as setting several box office records within China, the film has also been praised as raising the bar for domestic animated feature films.
Big Fish & Begonia
In a mystical realm beneath the human world, there lives a group of supernatural beings who are responsible for the laws governing the humans and also control the souls of people. A girl named Chun lives in the “God's Shrine” and is in charge of tending the begonia trees. On her 16th birthday, she is transformed into a dolphin as part of a coming-of-age ceremony and sent to supervise the human seas where she ends up getting tangled in a fishing net. A human boy sees a dolphin struggling but drowns in his attempts to save her. In order to repay him for his kindness, Chun begs the soul keeper to resurrect him, and his soul then grows into a huge fish in her world which she later returns to the sea. However, all her meddling has violated the laws of the world and caused a whole host of disasters.
Directed by Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun, Big Fish & Begonia (Dayu haitang)
tells the story of a girl called Chun who endeavours to resurrect a human boy named Kun to repay him for having saved her life. The inspiration for the film comes from a line in the story Xiaoyaoyou ( Enjoyment in Untroubled Ease) in the book Zhuangzi: “In the Northern Ocean there is a fish, the name of which is Kun.” Liang Xuan built a unique world, incorporating Chinese elements from Shanhaijing (Classic of Mountains and Rivers), Soushen ji (In Search of the Supernatural) and “Nüwa Mends the Sky,” creating a classic, mysterious quality exclusive to the East. The film has been highly praised for its use of Chinese elements and references to classic mythology. However, the simple relationships between the characters, their straightforward motivations and the basic love story decreased the artistic value of the work. The “Chinesestyle” was reserved only for the imagery, whereas the philosophies of unity between man and nature, and cycle of life and death seem redundant. Some of the Chinese traditional elements used in the film also seem somewhat superfluous. Considering that the film took over a decade to produce, many viewers were less than satisfied. However, for those considering watching the film, it is definitely worth seeing and judging solely on its own merits and its beautiful Chinese style.
Dahufa, a warrior from the Kingdom of Yiwei, travels to Peanut Town in search of a missing prince. This town was a strange place, with a huge black peanut floating in the sky above it and its residents shaped like peanuts. After Dahufa arrives, he discovers that the inhabitants were sluggish and stupid. Ruled over by a tyrannical human named Ji'an, they are divided into two groups—the masses and the guards—whom betray each other. In this strange town, Dahufa meets a peanut man by the name of Xiao Jiang, whose free will was awakening and helps him look for the prince. However, Dahufa uncovers Ji'an's evil plans during his search for the prince. Because of this, the ruler decides Dahufa must be killed, and the prince who has just been found is also in danger.
Dahufa was directed by Bu Sifan and tells the story of the main character, Dahufa, who travels to Peanut Town searching for a prince, but becomes involved in a plot dominated by desire. The film itself however is not a traditional Chinese animated film. Many of the beautiful handpainted landscapes show a strong oriental-style, but the strange design of the characters, violent visuals and reflection of humanity's dark side, make it unique amongst domestic animated films. The most unsatisfactory thing about Dahufa is a somewhat threadbare plot. Fortunately however, this dystopic fable makes up for this shortcoming with its many details. After the film's release, it was praised by many viewers for its darkness, violence and metaphorical quality. It is worth mentioning that Dahufa follows Bu Sifan's early work Heiniao (Black Bird), which adopts a dark and violent style in combination with ancient Chinese ink painting. This violent aesthetic makes his work instantly recognisable. In addition, the film's ending left audiences with space for imagination, so many viewers are eagerly awaiting the sequel to Dahufa. However, considering the interruptions in the production of Black Bird, it is probably best if audiences do not get their hopes up for the next installment too soon.
Little Door Gods
The two brothers Shen Tu and Yu Lei are both door gods. However, since the human world stopped worshiping the gods, the economics of the Spirit World declined, leaving the door gods, land gods and eight immortals all in danger of being laid off. Yu Lei therefore decides to go to the human world to prove the value of the door gods to the humans. When Yu Lei and Shen Tu arrive in the human world, they meet a single mother called Xiao Ying and her daughter Yu'er in the town. From that point on, a series of unexpected events start to take place…
The story of the two brothers, Shen Tu and Yu Lei, first appeared in Classic of Mountains and Rivers. In this book, the Yellow Emperor sends two men to keep an eye on the spirits and prevent them from entering the human world. For that reason, people hang the portraits of these two guards on their doors to exorcise evil spirits and pray for peace, making Shen Tu and Yu Lei the earliest recorded door gods in history. Directed by Wang Wei, Little Door Gods (Xiaomenshen) combines mythology and the real world. It not only updates this familiar folk legend, but also uses the plot device of the gods being laid off to allow audiences to reflect on the pursuit of money and success. However, although the conflicts between tradition and modernity, folklore and the inheritance of customs are the most eye-catching part of the film, in
the context of Chinese culture, the changes to several of the characters lack sufficient motivation. In that way, the film is more like an American animated film with Chinese elements. Perhaps because of this, this sincerely made Chinese animation failed to earn big at the domestic box office and did not cause much heated discussion. However, the international version attracted unprecedented attention as Hollywood stars such as Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Edward Norton and Mel Brooks dubbed the movie, also attending the 2016 Cannes Film Festival to much fanfare.
In the calm and peaceful Yuan Yang World, every 333 years a mysterious and terrifying creature is reborn, bringing absolute destruction. This creature is Kuiba. Seeing that the time for the creature's return was approaching, the deities decide to assassinate him before the sixth generation Kuiba awakens. However, the assassination attempt fails. In Wowo Town in remote Beast Country, Man Xiaoren and Manji, ambitious but unskilled "demon killers," practised their skills day and night. At that time, they heard a team was being put together to kill the creature and so decided to sneak aboard the giant warship and kill Kuiba.
Kuiba is a Chinese animated fantasy series that made its debut in 2011. Directed by Wang Chuan, it tells the story of the Yuan Yang World and the human world working together to combat the beast Kuiba. Following the success of the original film, the series has now seen the release of two further movies: Kuiba 2: Battle of the Yuan Yang World and Kuiba 3: Rise of the War God. Although the series shares many features with Japanese animation, the Chinese story is still very much at the core along with rich Chinese cultural elements. The trilogy has broken audiences' stereotypes of domestic animation with its solid production and high-quality painting, and the series' huge world view and detailed characterisation allowed audiences to quickly feel part of the story. The first film focuses on passionate fighting, the second on feelings and relationships, and the third on growth. Kuiba earned a huge number of fans and was received warmly by audiences, even being called the “hope of Chinese animation” and a “milestone in domestic animation.”
Unlike many other animated films, Kuiba is not based on either a television version or manga comic, meaning the first time audiences saw the story was on the big screen. Perhaps because of this, despite the film's high reputation, box office returns have often been a little below expectations, with the fourth installment even facing financial difficulties and having to resort to crowdfunding. With Kuiba 4 scheduled for release soon, it is perhaps unsurprising that the team behind the film are apparently working with Hollywood to create a live action version. Hopefully Chinese audiences will not have to wait too long for that day.
10,000 Years Later
Environmental degradation, resource depletion, moral decline... After a devastating disaster, civilisation collapses and the entire planet is ruined. Thousands of years later, the world is now inhabited by tribes and new species and the new civilisation has begun. These new human beings refer to the previous era as the “ancient time.” The great energy force that destroyed the ancient civilisation was sealed in a forbidden place called the Gods' Ruins, however Wushen disregards the commandments and wants to use this ancient force to restore civilisation. In order to stop him, a young girl named Zhuma, an artist called Yarayam, Tibetan Mastiff Zhan Gong, and an archer from another tribe, Sandola, embark on a journey helped by the lizardman Depp.
When people think of Chinese style films, they often assume they will contain a large number of traditional cultural elements .10,000 Years later(yiw ann ian yihou), which was produced jointly by China, the United States, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, Switzerland and other multi-national teams over a period of seven years, however, does not fit people's impression of Chinese animation with its magnificent special effects and dark style. 10,000 Years later is set in China's western region, and combines features from other countries with Chinese elements. It tells the story of the conflict between the restorative power of natural civilisation and force of ancient civilisation. It incorporates techniques from classic European dramas, integrates themes of dystopia in an unconventional style, and criticises modern-day values. The film also contains many tributes and references to Hollywood movies in its character settings, plots, monsters and camerawork. However, at its core, the film is still a rare attempt in Chinese animated feature films to venture into surrealist sci-fi and fantasy themes. The film was released to mixed reviews, acquiring the tags of magical work, unique style, innovative or plagiarising. In terms of genre, themes, forms and style however, the film is a rare and imaginative piece of work. After all, in the film, our current civilisation is called the “ancient civilisation,” and modern people are known as the “ancient gods,” giving the film a refreshing and innovative outlook.
Thewindguardians (2018) directed by Liu Kuo
Kuiba (2011) directed by Wang Chuan
10,000Yearslater (2015) directed by Yi Li