Born with unique powers, a boy is recruited to fight demons and save the community that fears him.Born with unique powers, a boy is recruited to fight demons and save the community that fears him.Born with unique powers, a boy is recruited to fight demons and save the community that fears him.
After months of rolling my eyes at the social media buzz about this supposedly "great Chinese animation", I finally found the one Regal theater in town that actually shows this movie. And I'm glad I did.
Initially, I was turned off by this movie's trailer, since it had all the worst stereotypes of a Chinese-made film, with all the cheesy expositions, cringey dialogues, and awkward voice acting. I was so sure that "Nezha" was just another piece of garbage coming out of the money-grabbing film industry that had become so shamelessly greedy in recent years. But my low expectations were pleasantly subverted.
After some struggling of finding a parking spot, I found myself in a relatively small-sized IMAX theater packed with young Chinese people, and a handful of white Americans, and one nice black lady who very much stood out in this crowd. And I'm almost certain that all of us enjoyed the two hours of fun and entertainment this film offered us, albeit on different levels.
Almost immediately after the movie started playing, I found myself already irritated by the unnecessarily long opening credits of all the production companies associated with "Nezha". This is one of the many shady industry practices in China, where all the entities involved in the film's production process shamelessly tried to promote their brands, regardless of how much actual contribution they've made. But shortly after the actual film began to show on the screen, I was easily won over by the opening scene where the famous Daoist immortal "Taiyi Zhenren" was revealed to be an obese and seemingly incompetent idiot. It was a subversion of the genre trope. When it comes to the genre of Chinese mythology films, Daoist immortals were almost always portrayed as wise old men whose wisdom and authority are not to be questioned. And here in "Nezha", one of the most powerful and respected Daoist deities was portrayed as a buffoon who actually had real human personality.
And at the same time, I was surprised to find myself actually enjoying the jokes and humors of the film, which I think is very rare in Chinese films. Even though I haven't watched any Chinese film for many years, I'm aware of the awfulness and cringiness of the typical attempts at comedy by trying to crack an awkward joke between scenes in Chinese films. But here in "Nezha", I enjoyed most of the comedy in it, even though I can see how goofy it is. Goofiness in film can be a good thing if it is done in the right tone.
There are more turns and twists than I expected throughout the film, and I enjoyed the whole ride. However, I have to point out, there are one or two very brief moments in the film, which I didn't appreciate as much. I know the filmmakers were being serious in those brief moments, trying to evoke a certain emotion from audience. But it didn't work on me because of the voice acting in those scenes which took me right out of the film. Don't get me wrong, the voice acting was great in "Nezha", much better than most films. But in certain brief moments, it just didn't work for me.
Now comes another possible issue of "Nezha", which might be an impediment to the general audience's enjoyment of this film. That is the English subtitles. I have to acknowledge that I myself could not do a better job than they did, at translating the Ancient Chinese mythological concepts into modern-day English while trying to make sense to an audience unfamiliar with Chinese culture at large. But I'd like to argue perhaps transliteration might be a better approach than imprecise translation. Also I have to point out, as with almost all foreign language films, the humors and multi-layered emotions of most dialogues in "Nezha" were inevitably lost in translation.
Overall, "Nezha" was one of the best Chinese entertainment I've experienced in recent years, even though I haven't really watched that many real Chinese films. I'm glad that "Nezha" got a huge box office success in China which it so very much deserves. I'm not so sure "Nezha" would be a hit elsewhere. It might get popular to a certain degree on some streaming platforms. But I doubt it will get mainstream popularity in US, since most American media's portrayal of everything remotely related to China has been so negative lately ever since the Trade War.
Anyway, for me, I thoroughly enjoyed "Nezha". But I don't know the experience would be the same for everyone, since you have to have a certain willingness to put up with imprecise translation while at the same time trying to be culturally open-minded.
P.S. Sorry about my rambling in this long-ass review. But I can't believe I actually enjoyed a Chinese animation film so I have to take the time to write my genuine feelings about it.
(Additional comments: CHINA was the nation that had once gave the world the absolutely worst garbage film series ever produced by mankind. I'm talking about, of course, the infamous "Tiny Times" series by the famed gay novelist Guo Jingming. Ever since my great suffering by Guo Jingming's garbage films, I had never ever given any Chinese-made films any sort of serious interest until the year 2019. At the beginning of this year, there was the surprise box office success, the "Wandering Earth", which I also enjoyed. And now I'm thoroughly won over by "Nezha". I think it's been a good year for the Chinese film-making and we shall see if it will last.)
- Sep 9, 2019