Chi­nese An­i­ma­tion Re­vi­talised

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Zhao Qing Edited by David Ball

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

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