Ne Zha 哪吒之魔童降世 – Movie Review
When I saw the trailer and the poster, I thought Ne Zha was going to be one of those cheap, juvenile China-produced 3D animated comedies. I had to force myself to give it a chance but I am glad I did ’cause my initial impression of the film was totally wrong.
Directed and written by Jiaozi, Ne Zha is like an origin story of the titular Chinese deity who’s probably most known for fighting and becoming friends with the Monkey King in the classic Journey to the West novel. He’s the son of the Pagoda-Bearing God, Li Jing, one of the Four Heavenly Kings. If you still don’t know who Nezha is, it’s okay ’cause you don’t have to at all to enjoy this film.
The story of the film is loosely based on the Chinese classic novel called Investiture of the Gods that was published in the 16th century during the Ming Dynasty. When I say “loosely based”, I mean really loosely. I would say almost like 60% of the source material is altered. Maybe more. It’s more like a modern reimagining of the story but despite some flaws, it works. I was very surprised by how much I actually enjoyed it.
At first, I thought I would hate the colourful art style and character design but it turns out to be very well animated. It’s lively, smooth, fluent, cute. The visual works well with the humour that it’s going for. Like how a magical fat pig is used as a flashback video player and its nose is used as the rewind and forward function. The film is quite creative with some of its nonsensical humour.
There are a couple of not-so-subtle pop culture references and a few overly kiddish parts like the opening scenes but in most parts of the film, it is genuinely hilarious and more importantly, it has its own unique identity to it. Somehow it even manages to make good use of fart jokes. My mandarin is god-awful and yet I still get its humour and laughed at a lot of the scenes.
But of course, there are emotional moments as well. If you know at least a bit about Nezha’s story, you would know that he has a real dramatic childhood. In the film, he is a misunderstood child. Everyone in his hometown sees him as a demon and is afraid of him due to his supernatural strength and his ability to control fire. He has no friends, he wants to be accepted but he’s never allowed to leave the house. His parents love him but they don’t have time to play with him as they’re busy defending the people from demons all the time. It could’ve been a full-out tragic hero kind of story but the film manages to balance out the humour and drama extremely well.
The only problem is that the character arc of Nezha is a little rushed towards the end. He pretty much goes from totally immature and rash to mature and humble in like two scenes. There’s also a lack of development for some of the major characters. I thought a character named Ao Bing is probably more complex than Nezha and he has a very interesting moral dilemma and a heavier emotional weight in the film’s story but sadly the depth of his character is not fully explored.
There’s also not enough of backstory and development for Nezha’s parents. I say all that but these flaws didn’t stop the film from tearing me up in the final act. This was probably the first time I was ever in tears watching a China Chinese animation.
The voice-acting is great. The score is good as well even though the main theme reminds me of Game of Thrones a little bit. Ne Zha is just surprisingly good to me and a breath of fresh air from China. Believe me, I understand it may not look interesting, especially if you never had any interest in Chinese mythology but give it a chance. Maybe you’d enjoy it as much as I did.
It seems like they are trying to do like a cinematic universe which I totally don’t mind as the character teased in the post-credit scene is from the same novel anyway. I just hope it’s going to be as good, if not better, than this film.
Based on: “Investiture of Gods” novel by Xu Zhonglin
Country / Language: China / Mandarin
Genre: Fantasy adventure animation
Running Time: 110 minutes
Director-writer: Yu Yang a.k.a. Jiaozi
Voice Cast: Lu Yanting, Joseph, Han Mo
Malaysia Release Date: 26 September 2019
Local Distributor: TGV Pictures
Production: Chengdu Coco Cartoon