Genre: CG Animation
Cast: Lü Yanting, Joseph, Cao Yalong, Wang Zheng, Chen Hao, Zeng Hongru, Yang Wei, Zhang Jiaming
Runtime: 1 hr 50 mins
Rating: PG (Some Violence)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 5 September 2019
Synopsis: NE ZHA is a classic Chinese mythology character that is only second to Sun Wukong. The movie revolves around the birth of Ne Zha from a powerful pearl inserted with huge energy. Yuanshi Tianzun (the Primeval Lord of Heaven) concocts two pills out of the pearl – a spiritual pearl and a sorcery pearl. How will Ne Zha choose between the good and the bad? Will he choose to be demon or will it be otherwise?
Asian kids surely have no problem identifying the story and characters from famous Chinese folklore liked Ne Zha, The Eight Immortals and Journey to the West as they have been adapted into countless comics, dramas and movies over the years. And just when you think there’s no more creative juice left to be milked, a virtually unknown Chinese animator Jiaozi managed to breathe new life into the origin story of the wilful, God-defying child deity, Ne Zha.
To differentiate itself from the original story and partly to stir up the interest of the audiences again, co-writer and director Jiaozi painstakingly created a story that is filled to the brim with empowering messages, comedy and lots of heart. So instead of sticking to the plot that we are familiar with, Jiaozi basically takes the character that we all know and infused it with his own unique brand of storytelling.
The Ne Zha in Jiaozi’s version is borne out of the demon pill which in turn is spilt from the Chaos pill by the great Immortal Lord of Heaven. Tasked by the great Immortal to become Ne Zha’s guardian is the fumbling Taiyi and his mortal parents, Commander Li Jing and his benevolent wife. Their duty it seems is to watch over Ne Zha as he is destined to be the demonic one who destroyed the world when he reaches the age of three. Despite being labelled a naughty brat by everyone in Chengtang Pass, Ne Zha only craved for true friends, his parent’s love and attention not to mention, a good companion for “jian zi”.
On the other hand, trouble is brewing in the form of Taiyi’s fellow alumni, Shen Gongbao who has stolen the spirit pill for the son of the Dragon King. In order to resurrect the glory days of the Dragon Dynasty, the Dragon King entrusted Shen to teach his son, Au Bing (who has been infused with powers from the spirit pill) on how to become an immortal in the heavenly realm. But first, Au Bing must prove his worth by defeating Ne Zha on the pretext of saving mankind in Chengtang Pass.
We must confess that not a single second of screentime is wasted at Jiaozi’s helm as he really knows how to keep the pacing fast and tight. In one of his interviews, Jiaozi readily admit most of the comedic elements are lifted straight out of Stephen Chow comedies be it the cheeky exaggerated expressions from Ne Zha, mo-lei-tau humour such as a recurring muscular character screaming in a high-pitch female voice in the background and laugh-out-loud dialogues (Because of the occasional accented Mandarin, English subtitles plays a big help). Even the usually much frowned upon bodily humour and fart gags are tolerable in this case.
For a family animation, Ne Zha has no lack of moral lessons and social messages. The mother who is always busy at work, fate lies in your own hands, the true love from parents etc. So no worries if you wish to impart some valuable lessons to your kids after the movie is over as there is simply no lack of it. And probably because it’s a family-friendly animation, the gruesome and complex plotting from the original tale is omitted (for the uninitiated, you need to google it) to make way for a finale that contains a heart warming arc about the true meaning of friendship.
The CG effects and animation are amazingly rendered on the big screen to the point that you can’t really tell the difference between this or Kungfu Panda 3. The closeup details of the Dragon King is astounding and the culmination of cloud, ice and fire effects in the finale alone is worth the ticket price. Still, Jiaozi’s overindulgence on visual effects and jarring action pieces could be improved on in future.
It’s not a surprise that Ne Zha has become one of the highest grossing movies in China given how entertaining the animated flick is. Perhaps it’s the true-life obstacles faced by Jiaozi (whose real name is Yang Yu) that helps in the rebirth of Ne Zha. On a side note, there are at least three post-credits scenes that hints of a sequel and a new mythology-based movie next year.
(Possibly the best animated movie this year! Ne Zha wins hands down!)
Review by Linus Tee