「新神榜：哪吒重生」 (Xīn shén bǎng: Nǎ zhā chóngshēng)
“New Gods: Nezha Reborn”
This is an intense high-octane, cyberpunk, dystopian animated film that doesn’t disappoint from both the visual standpoint and the rides and thrills that accompany it. It shouldn’t be missed.
I find myself compelled to talk about New Gods: Nezha Reborn because it’s been on my watch list for quite some time now, but it wasn’t until recently that I found myself with the time and energy to sit down and watch the film. I’ll say, this review or coverage, is just from my first viewing, and not to sound pretentious, but I saw it in Mandarin, which was quite hard to do so because the animation took me aback from the very first frame.
If this post inspires you to watch the film in any way, I highly recommend you do so!
I do wish to re-watch in English to fully get a grasp and appreciate the animation in all its glory, without having to look down and read the subs. I’m not complaining I think the M’ VO’ did a wonderful job!
I want to talk about this film, mainly because there might be someone out there who is into animation like me, but just doesn’t give the day to C-Films, just because they’re C-Films. I used to be like that, but it seems that more and more projects are coming out of the mainland. And they’re getting better and better. Each iteration mixing new elements with Chinese folklore. In Nezha Reborn we follow a boy named Li Yunxiang (M: Tianxiang Yang | E: Stephen Fu), who we will just call Li, he’s a delivery boy and a motor racing enthusiast, the story starts with an intense racing scene, it doesn’t wonder at all, it puts us straight into the action. I do wish we would have spent a little bit more time learning about Li and his daily life before he got into a race, I feel it would have given him a little more depth as a character in a sort of calm before the storm type situation, but the movie does a great job at putting us in the mindset of Li, and making us feel for him, albeit as 4th wall breaking as it.
Having Li look directly at the camera and explain his situation is comedic, funny and does its job at putting us into this world. Right from the get-go, the movie is beautiful, every frame is filled with beautiful CGI. I rather like this style Light Chaser Animation has been developing. Since I saw White Snake, I believe somewhere along the lines of last year, I fell in love with it. It’s high value production-wise, and the models look like they should. This is a story pivotal to Asia, as it takes direct inspiration from the Investiture of the Gods a very old book that is now regarded as part of the cultural heritage and has become part of the folklore, I believe. Like White Snake, Nezha takes inspiration from the folklore itself and re-imagines it in a new light, adapts into a more modern story that is both visually and interesting. It’s more like it goes through a Disney-like interpretation, but with eastern sensibilities, and holding through to their heavy censoring rules. Something I will never shut up about because free thought and speech is a human right, and people should have it without feeling like they would be lynched by their government. Of course, that’s another discussion as we can very quickly get caught up in the ‘intellectual war’ and the ‘anti reactionary movement.’
But that’s a subject I will leave behind for now.
Nezha however, goes full fantasy on us, while trying to be as cool as possible. After the race and some potential love interest, we see Li trying to talk to an extremely beautiful lady, that is out of his league as she doesn’t deal with children. This is central to his character, as when he tries to flirt, we see a more young, kid-like, Li. Meanwhile, this lady is mature and doesn’t even bat an eye for him. The girl who accompanies Li sits in the background, crossing her arms, and tapping her toe. Making Li look bad.
Then he meets up with De Clan, the gang that controls the city. There’s a water crisis and everyone strays for water, this later becomes central to the story. He meets a ruthless guy, Ao Guang (M: Xuan Xiaoming | E: Andrew Kishino) who takes everything he likes, they go their separate ways, but not before Li can intercept a water tower and deliver h2O to the people, Robin Hood-style, after that, it’s when the real meat of the story begins.
He meets up again with Ao the upper-ling of De Clan Bros, and get’s his ass kicked, but not before the big reveal happens. Ao, (coincidentally blue in Japanese) is the reincarnated spirit of the Dragon King of the East Sea, he uses his power’s on Li and knocks him out, but of course, Li uncovers he has powers as well, he’s the reincarnated spirit of Nezha, a once-mighty boy who challenged the Dragons themselves and became a monster to his own family.
In layman terms the moral of the story for Nezha is – no matter how messed up a father can get, no matter if they are unable to understand you and your power, and don’t know how to let it flourish, the ultimate sin is you should never kill your father because he is still your dad. Family is a big deal in both western and eastern cultures, but eastern cultures put a great emphasis on your superiors, but Nezha breaks that rule because he had greater power than his father. Nezha is supposed to teach us that no matter how bad things get, you are still meant to love your family and accept them through their flaws, no one is perfect, and we all have things we wish to change about ourselves, but Nezha was born to a military father, and thus always saw himself as superior, so when his dad didn’t meet his standard, Nezha found no better solution than death to solve their quarrel. This is a very summarized version of the story, and it’s only but my interpretation of the original mythology.
Nezha was also born with one of the Astrals, in the original story he was born with the red silk, which then reflects into the film itself. The whole conflict originated because Nezha was dancing, minding his own business in a large body of water, and making big ripples in the water, which were bothering the Dragon King of the East. In the film this is played out as a big conflict that spawned generations and even after death, Nezha can’t let go and only wishes for the Dragon King to apologize. To me, it seems like one big misunderstanding. And all of this could have been avoided if the Dragon King wasn’t so prideful. But Dragons and Demigods are above humans so they will never get off their high horse.
Truthfully I very much enjoyed this film, yes the models look like porcelain dolls, but that’s just part of the style, hyper-realistic, while at the same time being hyper-stylized. It’s sort of uncanny valley, as Li for example has elongated eyes but at the same time manages to conjure up that rude boy boyish good looks. It doesn’t look bad, and I think Light Chaser Animation is trying to differentiate itself from looking too much like something Square Enix might conjure up, or something that Pixar might make. It’s part of their style and I’m all up for it because it begs the question of representation. These are genuine Asian characters made by people who wish for that representation on film. Li has a face that reads underdog in all of the sense of the word.
Meanwhile, Su Junchu (M: Li Shimeng | E: Nicole Fong) has a more, ‘Korean’, standard of beauty, which Li can’t help but feel attracted to. She has elongated legs that could kill any man, a short waist, and absolute porcelain skin. She looks like a barbie, but then as her character expands and we learn she’s a doctor, who has the hots for fast thrills, her character deepens and we learn she rather put herself first for others. She serves the purpose of giving Li that ruthless, boy out of the slums, who can’t help but fall for the older more mature woman, kinda feel. And at the same time, being a mirror for what Li becomes later in the film. As after she does indeed fall for him, but only after he has changed and matured enough to meet her at eye level.
This, of course, is a mirror by Li’s younger sister who is meant to represent his younger side, she gets confused as his girlfriend during Su and Li’s interaction.
I feel all of this is still the baby steps Light Chaser Animation needs to take to truly hone their skills and make something the west market really appreciates and is taken aback by. But at the same time, this type of mythology is foreign to a western speaking market, some things like for example the flashback with Nezha and the start of his conflict might fly over some people’s heads, why was Nezha so pretentious in the first place? And why did the Dragon of the East even start the conflict to begging with? That flashback was meant to give context to the situation, but it might end up confusing some people in the long run. It didn’t fully click for me until I researched his story and found the mythology behind Nezha and his origin story if you will.
I’m not pointing fingers at that flashback scene or saying that it’s bad, I’m only saying that an eastern market who grew up with these tails about Dragons and demigods, will see that scene and understand the context by proxy, while someone outside of that culture will look at that scene and maybe see a spoiled kid who can’t get along with Dragons because they won’t apologize to him. But apologize for what in the first place?
A longer explanation might be in order, and yet the film doesn’t worry about lingering too much in that history as it’s not necessary, it completes the story of why Nezha is mad at the Dragon clan, and that’s all you need to know. Further context might be provided to that scene if you do a little digging, but you can also walk away not having done any research and the experience will still be enjoyable.
Another aspect I like is the mix between the industrial, the 60’s aesthetic, and the dystopian cyberpunk, while still mixing in all of that Chinese backgrounds and buildings. There were some shots where I was simply taken aback by the incredible detail placed in the city. The craftsmanship of these CG artists is simply incredible. There’s no other way to put this. It was simply awe-inspiring.
New Gods: Nezha Reborn is now streaming on Netflix worldwide!