“Gong Xi! Gong Xi!”
You know, October may claim to be the spooky month of the year. Where ghastly thrills and eerie ghouls abound, Halloween is there to bring in the fun. Nevertheless, that does not mean we can’t revisit a certain festival for the second time this year. SO, YAS. Happy Lunar New Year folks!
Now, we might picture you scrunching up your visages, placing your fingers on your brow while scratching it, pondering as to what madness overcame this page to be wishing you “Gong Xi Fa Cai” in the closing months of the year. No prob, lads. We’re here to tell you why!
Originally set to release in January this year was a Chinese animated feature called “Jiang Ziya: Legend of Deification (姜子牙)”. Alongside Jackie Chan’s action flick, “Vanguard” (which was also released last month), these films were meant to be some of 2020’s Chinese New Year highlights. Nevertheless, the increasingly dire circumstances around the globe forced the movie to be pushed back to October. So, now you know, our new year greetings have been justified.
“Legend of Deification” is the second entry in the Fengshen Cinematic Universe. The first outing in the aforementioned series was 2019’s “Ne Zha”, which came as a pleasant surprise due to how fluently animated it was. Indeed, “Ne Zha” had heart, humour, a compelling anti-hero, and a superb message on identity. Furthermore, the dizzying kinetic aura it emanated was a sight to behold considering the sheer scale of the set pieces. Divine.
As such, it was a no-brainer to us that this second entry, “Legend of Deification”, was somehow going to live up to the epic scale of “Ne Zha”. What we did not know was that it would exceed those expectations. Wanna know why? Let’s dive in.
The movie tells the tale of our eponymous protagonist, voiced by Zheng Xi, who leads an army through a fierce battle against Emperor Zhou of the Shang dynasty as detailed through a beautiful 2D-rendered prologue. With his leadership, the divine army eventually prevails and defeats the emperor’s forces.
Shortly after the battle, the emperor’s “destined love”, Su Daji (Yang Ning), is revealed to be a nine-tailed-vixen spirit. With the knowledge that she would be the chaos bringer to mankind, her corporeal form is held captive atop the golden pillars of Kunlun.
Jiang Ziya’s victory led to him being conferred the title of “leader of the gods” but for him to fully embrace the role, he is subsequently given his final task: execute the nine-tailed-fox. However, as he is about to strike the spirit down with a blow from his sword, he is pulled into a dreamlike stupor by Su Daji, making him question his reality and the life-changing decision by showing him a little girl fastened tight within the hairs of her tails.
Jiang Ziya is not able to bring himself to execute an innocent but this delay inadvertently unleashes evil upon Kunlun, which he makes short work of by cutting off her head. Nonetheless, his initial compassion is frowned upon by the gods. As such, he is banished from the heavenly council to Beihai, living a solitary life.
After a time jump of ten years, our protagonist is still forlorn on Earth but his fate changes when he crosses paths with Jiuwei (Ji Guanlin), a young child who visits his town in search of her father. Seeking a chance at redemption, he agrees to follow her across treacherous lands to Mount Youdo to assist her in her mission.
Now, please excuse us while we simp all over an animated model, cos he’s as breathtaking as Keanu Reeves.
One of the main differences between the source material and the film is concerning Jiang Ziya’s age. In the literary source, the figure is commonly depicted as an elderly man with a military strategist’s mind equivalent to Hannibal (not Lecter) of Rome. However, the animated version displays a much younger-looking middle-aged man with long flowing hair tied up in a ponytail, wielding a divine staff as his main weapon. Well, he may be held in high regards within the divine community, but man, Jiang Ziya is fine as hell.
Many times, Jiang Ziya’s failure to strike down the spirit is alluded to and we see a pitiful resentment within him. He’s still every bit as bold, physically adept, and reeking of benevolence. However, inside him is a broken man, pained as evidenced through his eyes. He’s an outcast, one who could not live with his own failure.
Jiuwei, on the other hand, is similar to the title character. An outcast of society due to her physical attributes, she has been a loner all her life. However, unlike Jiang Ziya, she is not harbouring as much pain due to her more cheerful personality. Indeed, her presence bleeds into Jiang Ziya’s struggle as does his into hers. The dynamic between the characters is indeed beautifully conceptualised as they both find themselves on the path to Mount Youdo.
The filmmakers also take their time to zoom in on the details, giving viewers several key pieces of imagery to soak in. And it’s heavenly! The contrast between the desolate sands of the desert and the gigantic white pillars of Kunlun indeed were sights to behold. Without a doubt, much thought was given into presenting epic cinematic visuals.
Like “Ne Zha”, a great deal of care was given to craft slick animated fight-sequences. It’s a welcome delight when these sequences are executed as the action is dizzyingly fast-paced to get your blood pumping. The nine-tailed fox is animated with such ferocity that with every swipe of her sharpened claws, you do feel the danger that she poses to our heroes. Along with some truly amazing blasts of runic energy, the sequences were made to awe.
One thing that we felt “Legend of Deification” exceeded its predecessor in was with regards to its colour compositions. The vibrant hues and shades of blue were used to full effect in constructing effective contrast between the forces of light and darkness. Indeed, many scenes were given a great amount of heft due to how the animation was framed and coloured.
Moving on, one other aspect we absolutely fell head-over-heels over was the animal sidekick because…
IT’S SO GOSH-DARN CUTE!
Look at that, folks. What a beauty. This smol white bean is definitely the scene-stealer whenever it comes onscreen. Although it’s referred to as a milu deer, it’s mannerism is similar to that of a dog’s. Its mysticism lends it the ability to communicate as if it were blowing bubbles. Indeed, it joins the likes of Pascal and Flounder as one useful cute lil’ creature as he certainly holds his own during some really entertaining battle sequences.
The movie is not completely without fault as we felt that the plot could have had a slightly better structure, especially when it came to the use of Emperor Zhou and the nine-tailed spirit in several sequences. However, this issue is just a minor gripe and one that did not affect our enjoyment of this tale.
“Jiang Ziya: Legend of Deification” has not met our expectations. No. It has surpassed them. Such is the quality of the film that was such a joy to watch and we definitely recommend this to our readers. indeed, we can’t wait to see what the studio, Beijing Enlight, can do next.
Sorry PIXAR, but as of now, this has to be our favourite animated feature of 2020 (not that there are many anyway). It’s got all the goods. Raw emotion. A gosh-darn adorable animal sidekick. Exquisite imagery. Visceral action.
All that and it’s. Just. Breathtakingly. Epic.
Do stay around through the rolling credits as there are some post-credit tags and a beautiful teaser trailer for the next entry in the animated world of the gods, “Deep Sea”.
Have you watched “Jiang Ziya: Legend of Deification” yet? What did you think about it? Don’t forget to wish us a very “Happy Lunar New Year” in the comments below!