This story about “Ne Zha” first appeared in the International Film Issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.
China often submits epic-scale films to the Oscar race; the surprise was that this year’s entry, “Ne Zha,” was an epic animated film based on a beloved Chinese legend.
Director Yu Yang sat down to discuss his film, a giant box office hit in his homeland. (The interview was conducted via email.)
What led you to make a movie from this story?
For a long time, the quality of most animation features produced in China hasn’t been very good. Chinese audiences have been very disappointed with domestic animation, and domestic animation has been often labeled as an inferior product. Being animators in China, we appreciate and admire many outstanding animation works from abroad. They’re the driving force and role model for us choosing to be involved in the animation industry.
Since we chose this profession, we cannot allow the animation industry to fail in China. To revitalize Chinese animation, we must fight back by relying on our own strength and effort to turn around the negative views from our audiences. So we want to develop a story about the twist of fate, and to move away from stereotyped characters. Ne Zha is a character from traditional Chinese mythology; he represents the rebellious image as a preteen superhero. His persona is a perfect fit for our theme.
Did any of the previous film versions of the story influence your film?
When I was a kid, I saw “Prince Nezha’s Triumph Against Dragon King”; it was made by Shanghai Animation Film Studio back in 1979. Since then I fell deeply in love with this Ne Zha character. He was fearless; he dared to challenge the powerful Dragon King in order to save lives of the innocent civilians. In the end he sacrificed his own life. So in many of my movies there are obvious plot connections that paid tribute to this story.
But in this new era we have to develop new stories that fit the spirit of the times. My latest adaptation of “Ne Zha” is no longer a one-dimensional righteous hero; he’s a more complicated character that’s both good and evil, closer to a real human being. Like any regular person, he has concerns and doubts about his own fate. By him resisting fate, it will resonate with the audience in a more convincing manner.
What were the biggest challenges in making this movie?
The biggest challenge was working in a still incomplete system within our animation industry, and finding ways to perfect this animation feature. We lack screenwriting experience (this was my first time writing a movie script). We also lack directing experience (this was my first time directing a feature film), production managing experience, expert-level animators and advanced technical support. Our entire production process is constantly going through trial and error; we are cultivating our domestic animation industry and developing our own production logistics, which is much harder to do compared to countries that have already developed their movie industry.
When we were finally able to transform our vision to the big screen, our animation industry also gained a lot of valuable experience from this project.
To read more from TheWrap’s International Film Issue, click here.