New Chinese ‘Tarantino-esque’ animated film inspires confidence in the future of the industry

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/20 18:38:39


Promotional material for Dahufa Photo: IC


Promotional material for Dahufa Photo: IC

For a long while animated films produced in China have been labeled as childish and lacking in quality, but in recent years a streak of high quality works have started to change people's opinions about the animation industry in the Chinese mainland.

Following the footsteps of 2011's Kuiba, 2015's Monkey King: Hero is Back and 2016's Bigfish & Begonia, recent black humor animated film Dahufa (Lit: big doctrine) has sparked another discussion about the future of the domestic animation industry.

Black humor

Hitting theaters nationwide on July 13, the mature animation tells a simple story with a deep and dark theme: A guard for three generations of the royal family, warrior Dahufa makes his way into a remote village in search of a lost prince.

One major aspect that has set the film apart from most animated Chinese films is the violence involved in the story.

While promoting the film before release, the studio issued a content warning for audiences, saying that the film was not suitable for children under 13 due to the violent nature of some scenes in the film.

It seems this more mature approach has been both a blessing and a curse.

Though it has jumped between the third and fourth spot at the daily box office since its opening day, the film's audience rating on domestic film websites Mtime (7.7) and Douban (8.1) are much higher than either of the box-office champions, Chinese fantasy blockbuster Wu Kong (6.4 on Mtime and 5.5 on Douban) and US animated film Despicable Me 3 (7.3 on Mtime and 7.0 on Douban).

Industry insiders have noted that the high scores yet lower box-office results are most likely due to the loss of the young child and family demographic during the summer vacation period.

While critics have been quick to point out that the film has many obvious blemishes, they also note that the film is worth such overwhelming applause thanks to its willingness to take critical aim at today's society and its overall depressing tone, things that many Chinese films lack.

"It's not a cartoon for small children or families… As a mature animation, it has a distinctive voice and is a sharp satire of reality. Though it has certain defects, the pacing causes you to forget its flaws, while the black humor on display has a Tarantino-esque aesthetic," film critic Chu Mufeng wrote on Sina Weibo.

"It is the most 'errant' film of 2017 so far. Neurotically negative, anti-idea, anti-human, anti-beauty, anti-children and anti-art... I'm ignoring its defects because I think this type of work should be encouraged," netizen Falansi Jiaopan posted in a review of the film on Douban.  

Bright future 

The future of the Chinese animation industry has become a hot topic of discussion in recent years.

"I was so excited after seeing the film. I couldn't sleep the entire night," said Chinese scriptwriter Shi Hang on Sina Weibo, going on to say that he was glad that children growing up today would be sure to have fond memories of Chinese animated films.

When talking about Chinese animated films, most people immediately think of big films from the 1960s such as Havoc in Heaven and Where is Mama?, or 1980s films such as Three Monks and Calabash Brothers. Yet, there are few memories of films from the 1990s, as an increasing number of animated films from the US and Japan during that time caused domestic films to be overlooked.

Domestic animated films of the early 21st century were often very similar visually to US and Japanese productions, since the animators of these films had been heavily influenced by films from the two countries as children. This led to many moviegoers to criticize these films for lacking a distinct Chinese style.

Although Kuiba was a huge hit after it hit theaters in 2011, it was still criticized for being too similar to Japanese anime stylistically. It wasn't until Monkey King: Hero is Back made a huge hit at the box office that Chinese animated films could have both a good story and their own homegrown style. Bigfish & Begonia the following year further reinforced audiences' confidence in the Chinese animation industry with its beautiful ink wash painting style, although it was criticized for poor storytelling.

Increased investment

This increased confidence can be seen in increased investment in the industry.

Earlier this month, China Central Television (CCTV) announced that it would be working with toy manufacturer Hasbro on an animated film featuring the Transformers and the mythological Chinese character Nezha.

"The animation industry in China is becoming more mature," Busifan, director of Dahufa, told the Global Times on Tuesday. "I think this could be the best time for domestic animation. All aspects of the industry, including human and technological resources, have seen tremendous improvement."

Having grown up watching US, Japanese and old Chinese animations, Busifan admitted that animators his age have been greatly influenced by foreign aesthetics and are still struggling to find their voice.

"We are still figuring out what 'Chinese animation' should be. We don't have a model yet, all we can do is keep trying," he said.

Newspaper headline: Attracted to the dark

Posted in: FILM,TV

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