Chinese animation "Ne Zha" is smashing this summer's box office records as the highest-grossing domestically-made animated film of all time, exceeding 2 billion yuan on Saturday. With the rebellious spirit of the teen hero and well-known Chinese mythical background, the film has received a huge boost of popularity among the young generation.
"Ne Zha", with his mythical figure riding on "wind fire wheels", is a legendary anti-authority figure, as well-known in China as the Monkey King. Making "Ne Zha" its protagonist, the latest hit animation is loosely based on the Chinese novel "The Investiture of the Gods" and tells the story of how a devil born into a loving family eventually emerged as a hero.
While analyzing the key factors attributing to its success, film critic Han Hua said that it's not unique but instead the regular formula behind every successful film, which involves music, compelling storyline, as well as appealing actors and dubbing. Meanwhile, film critic Teng Jimeng emphasized that the rebellious characterization of "Ne Zha" have resonated with the Chinese millennial generation.
Teng further pointed out that actually this is not the first film to make "Ne Zha" its protagonist. In 1979, a milestone animation "Prince Nezha's Triumph Against Dragon King" was produced by Shanghai Animation Film Studio and since then it has become a childhood memory of many Chinese.
Garnering a remarkable opening day gross of around 137 million yuan (about 20 million U.S. dollars), "Ne Zha" is also the first Chinese 3D animated film in IMAX format. Han Hua recalled the success of what she believed the first modern Chinese animated film "Lotus Lantern" 20 years ago, which "combined traditional Chinese painting with international 3D technology". She also added that "the investment of the movies, especially the animated movies is so uncertain in terms of the box office in China's market … so China's animated movie producers were being very cautious of introducing the ever-evolving modern technologies into their production process"; but this time, “Ne Zha”'s five-year production time, much longer than an average one, may have better facilitated the film to utilize modern technology.
Before "Ne Zha", China's animated film industry has released several hit films based on classic Chinese tales, such as "Monkey King: Hero is Back" in 2015, "Big Fish & Begonia" in 2016, and "White Snake" in 2019.
While many viewers went to see these film remakes from their childhood memories, Teng Jimeng argued that when he looked at these nostalgia film remakes, as a film critic he didn't see real "creativity energy" in them. But he also pointed out that both domestic and international film industry may suffer the same dilemma in the post-modern society when "consumption became the norm and then there is no creativity".
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