Chinese animation 'New Gods: Yang Jian' wins North America distribution deal
Animation distributor GKIDS Films has acquired North American rights to Chinese animated film "New Gods: Yang Jian," a new offering in an ongoing series from Light Chaser Animation.
Early next year, the film will be released in theaters in North America with both Mandarin and English dubbing.
The film had outperformed Hollywood production "Minions: The Rise of Gru" at the box office on the Chinese mainland. Both were released on August 19.
According to box office tracker Maoyan, the film has already earned 228 million yuan (US$33.2 million) by Friday, nearly 100 million yuan more than that of "Minions."
Light Chaser Animation, a Chinese CG studio known for the "White Snake" franchise and "New Gods: Nezha Reborn," has made a couple of attempts in recent years to reinterprete classic stories from ancient Chinese mythology and folklore.
The studio's bold and innovative approach to cater to modern audiences has also drawn attention from international distributors and streaming services.
The global streaming rights to "New Gods: Nezha Reborn" were bought by Netflix last year. In 2019 GKIDS distributed "White Snake" as its first Chinese animated film.
Directed by Zhao Ji, "Yang Jian," the second installment in the "New Gods" series, incorporates distinctive elements of Chinese culture with some modern punk-style scenes.
Yang Jian, a powerful mythological god from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) novel "The Investiture of the Gods," is depicted as a poor bounty hunter who can't open the third eye on his forehead to release incredible power after his sister is imprisoned beneath Huashan Mountain.
Chenxiang, another mythical figure known for splitting the mountain with the magical lotus lantern to free his mother, is portrayed as a rebellious boy. In the film, his efforts may upset the balance and bring catastrophe to the world.
Compared with the predicable storyline, Chinese viewers seem to be more enchanted by the film's lavish scenes and stunning visuals.
One of the animation's highlights is a magnificent dance that is inspired by the Flying Apsaras images in Dunhuang Grottoes and ancient Chinese poet Cao Zhi's poem "The Ode to the Goddess of the River Luo."
The charm of Chinese watercolor painting is fully showcased in a giant tai chi scroll to trap Yang and his nephew. The film's score is also a mix of rock, jazz and traditional Chinese instruments.
It took director Zhao three years to make the film following the success of "White Snake." In 2019, he and the crew visited the Crescent Moon Lake and various grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu Province. The trip helped them to imagine a world for gods as an oasis in the desert.
"Traditional Chinese culture provides a source of inspiration for the scenes, costumes and props in our movie," said director Zhao. "We were deeply impressed by the gorgeous color and images of the Dunhuang murals, as well as the exhibited artworks of different dynasties in China's museums."
Jeffrey Yuan, a marketing manager and movie buff in his 40s, said he was surprised by the imagination in the scenes of the homegrown animation.
"Chinese animation has made great progress in visuals," said Yuan. "When I saw so many amazing shots to portray the mysterious islands of the immortals, I just couldn't believe my eyes.
"Obviously Chinese animators have already overcome the challenges of technology. With improvements in storytelling, they now can compete with Hollywood blockbusters."
The brilliance and richness of Chinese culture, particularly ancient mythology, intangible cultural heritage, and folk arts, has inspired many well-received animated productions. Hollywood films "Mulan" and "Kung Fu Panda" were box office sensations at the time and helped to spread Chinese culture.
Industry insiders believe the industrialization of China's film industry nowadays will incubate more domestic animations, with remarkable breakthroughs in visual styles and scripting to amaze global audiences.