originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/723652...


One day I’ll make a new friend who speaks Chinese and I can ask to come up with a different intro for donghua-related posts ;p

Long time Animation Night viewers might remember Animation Night 102 a little over a year ago, in which we watched a film called 新神榜:哪吒重生 (New Gods: Nezha Reborn) - not to be confused with other recent Nezha-related films like Ne Zha.

And it was pretty sick. Essentially you’ve got a CGI film set in a kind of FF7-like dieselpunk world in which various mythological figures now run crime syndicates or ride cool motorbikes. The film followed someone who turns out to be the reincarnation of Nezha - where Nezha’s old enemy, the East Sea Dragon King, is also reincarnated as a kind of mafia kingpin who doesn’t know to leave well enough alone, and picks a fight, hoping to stop the new Nezha fully incarnating.

Gif source: @sakuhai

As CG films go, there’s not a lot to compare it to - except perhaps Lupin III: The First, which also has the kind of smooth, slightly stylised figures and fancy effects. It was a bunch of fun, lots of twists and turns, guys who look like Sun Wukong but aren’t (…maybe?), betrayals, and of course plenty of slickly choreographed fantastical martial arts.

Well, sure enough, Nezha was the first in a series! The second film in the series, New Gods: Yang Jian came out last year…

Gif source: @nexttimeisnotthesame

This one focuses on another character from the Investiture of the Gods, Erlang Shen (二郎神), who’s got a bunch of other names, notably Yang Jian (楊戩), which is the name he takes in Investiture of the Gods. I definitely needed to read up on this guy, so here’s a primer: Erlang Shen’s a god, nephew to the Jade Emperor, and a rather righteous one, associated with traits like purity, decency, and slaying monsters. Physically, his major trait is the truth-seeing third eye in the middle of his forehead; he also likes to carry a three-pointed spear, and his signature technique is ‘72 eartly transformations’, i.e. turning into pretty much anything.

In Investiture, he shows up as a discple of the immortal Yuding Zhenren (玉鼎真人) during Chapter 40, in which Jiang Ziya battles the four 'Diablo Brothers’ Mo Lihong, Mo Liqing, Mo Lihai and Mo Lishou, essentially a bunch of evil wizards who are causing havoc. Now, bear with me here. Mo Lishou has a powerful flying mink (or maybe an elephant). Yang Jian deliberately lets himself get eaten, and then when Lishou sends the mink out to attack, he transforms inside its stomach, popping it from the inside as it’s about to fight Jiang Ziya.

Then, Yang Jian transforms himself into the mink, and uses this disguise to get close to the brothers and steal a magic umbrella from Mo Lihong, giving Jiang Ziya the chance to win the battle. Pure TTRPG player strategems here honestly. Love it.

He also shows up in Journey to the West, in which he’s sent to try and deal with the Sun Wukong problem. They have a classic transformation battle, which Yang Jian eventually wins by seeing through Sun Wukong’s clever disguise as a temple, and teaming up with Laozi (yeah¸ the Tao Te Ching guy) to capture him.

All in all, Yang Jian is not a god to be trifled with.

Gif source: @nexttimeisnotthesame

However, the main story about Erlang Shen/Yang Jian is none of these, but a folktale called The Magic Lotus Lantern, in which he plays the role of antagonist.

The Magic Lotus Lantern tells of the goddess Huayue Sanniang, who falls in love with a mortal scholar called Lui Yanchang. Her older brother Erlang Shen, here a god, does not approve, to the point that he’s willing to fight her about it. However, Huayue Sanniang wins the fight using her magic lotus lantern, and marries Liu Yanchang. Together they have a child called Chen Xiang. With me so far?

Unfortunately, Erlang Shen isn’t about to take this whole thing lying down. After seven years, he tracks them down by the light of that same lantern, and briefly abducts Chen Xiang, before stealing the lantern and sealing Sanniang under a mountain (Mount Hua).

Nine years later, Chen Xiang - now 16 - learns what happened to his mum. He goes on a journey running into a number of mythological figures, including Sun Wukong, who teaches him martial arts. Indeed, Sun Wukong is like you know what kid you’re pretty strong, I’ll make you a big old axe to get your mum out of that mountain. At the end of it all, Chen Xiang goes and battles his uncle, and loses… but at the last minute he gets a special lotus lantern powerup, which gives him the chance to win the battle and free his mum from the mountain.

Incidentally, if you will permit a tangent (that is at least animation relevant lmao) - this story was adapted to animation in 1999 as 宝莲灯 (Lotus Lantern), and in fact that’s quite a notable film in itself. To briefly tell the story again, from the 50s onwards, the vast majority of animation in China happened under the roof of Shanghai Animation Film Studio. However, during the Cultural Revolution, most of the major animators at SAFS such as Te Wei were cast as reactionaries sent to the countryside to do hard labour, practicing drawing only in secret. Chinese animation entered a period where the only permitted form was propaganda films in a narrowly defined realist style.

Following the end of the Cultural Revolution, many of these animators returned to the studio, making celebrated films like 哪吒闹海 Nezha Conquers the Dragon King (1979) as well as all sorts of short films celebrating an end to their ordeal and railing against artistic censorship. However, the studio’s output - and Chinese animation in general - declined in the ensuing decades, with Chinese studios mostly doing outsourcing work and younger audiences turning to anime and western animation. So far so familiar.

In 1992, the studio started to reorganise itself along Western lines, collaborating with a company called Prrfect Animation from San Francisco. [This information comes from an article in Animation World Network, which is incredibly light on details. I can’t find any other mention of Prrfect Animation outside of its connection with SAFS.] The studio would soon become part of the new Shanghai Film Group Corporation.

And in the middle of that period comes this movie - a kind of turning point for donghua. You can a restoration on Youtube, albeit unsubbed. Visually it’s definitely got traces of the Cultural Revolution-era style, narratively it hews fairly close to the Mouse’s formula complete with songs; indeed, allegedly this movie beat them at their own game in 1999.

Anyway, we’re not watching this movie tonight - vibeswise it would be a weird combo, and it’s going to take a little work to find suitable subs and mux them in, but put a pin in this, we might just come back to it.

Gif source: @nexttimeisnotthesame

So what about this film? In this world, Yang Jian is now living a quiet life as a bounty hunter. Here’s the official English-language plot summary, which is very brief:

Twelve years after imprisoning his sister underneath a mountain, Erlang Shen, a god known for his all-seeing third eye, now works as a bounty hunter. A woman hires him and his crew to prevent his nephew, Chenxiang, from obtaining a magical lotus lantern that holds great power.

Beyond that? I can tell you that at some point he wears a fedora. Look, it’s in that gif right there. Yeah, I’m flying a little blind on this one ^^’

As things turned out, I didn’t end up seeing this at Annecy, since it clashed with Rintarō’s new short film… but fortunately, it is now available in the usual places. So the plan tonight is pretty simple: we will be watching both New Gods films, first a reprise of Nezha and then the new Yang Jian.

Also! We’re actually on time! I’m gonna go live a lot earlier than we’ve managed lately, namely 8pm UK time, which is about 3 hours from this post (if you’re in the States, that will be midday Pacific time, 3pm Eastern time). The place is, as ever, twitch.tv/canmom. Hope to see you there~


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