In its first two weeks, Chinese animation “Ne Zha” has got 3 billion yuan (AUD$632 million) at the box office, making it the most successful Chinese animated movie ever.

“Nezha” is based on an anti-authority character from Chinese mythology, who in the movie fights to overcome prejudice and pursue his dreams. The movie netted 139 million yuan in box office on its first day on July 26, according to industry data provider EntGroup.

Meet the Biggest Chinese Animated Film

And “Nezha” is on course to rake in even more cash. Online ticket platform Maoyan predicts the film will take 3.5 billion yuan by the end of its run. Until now, “Nezha” has easily toppled Disney’s “Zootopia” for the title of China’s biggest ever animated film. “Zootopia,” which screened in China in 2016, netted a total of 1.5 billion yuan at the box office.

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The movie’s success is a milestone for China’s animated film industry, analysts said. It represents a trend of domestically made animated movies that target an audience that is coming of age, said Yue Yanping, an associate professor at the Communication University of China. Yue said China’s progress in developing such films has been accelerating in recent years.

“Nezha” was directed by 39-year-old Yang Yu, who came to fame when his first animated film — “See Through” — garnered a series of awards, including a special mention at the 26th International Berlin Short Film Festival in 2010. The 16-minute film tells the story of two enemy pilots who became best friends after they are stranded after an air crash.

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The financial success of “Nezha” is expected to give a boost to the confidence of the lagging Chinese movie industry, which after years of blockbuster growth has faced a regulatory crackdown after a high-profile tax evasion scandal last year.

In the first half of year 2019, only three movies recorded a box office of over 2 billion yuan (AUD$421 million), including “Avengers: Endgame” and Chinese-made sci-fi flick “The Wandering Earth.”

“Nezha” is also expected to give a boost to the studio that made it — Shenzhen-listed Beijing Enlight Media Co. Ltd. — which last month predicted its first-half profits would drop by at least 95% to as little as 85 million yuan.—-edited from Mo Yelin, caixinglobal.com

“Ne Zha” Went Viral Even Before the Release 

A crossover video featuring Nezha and Monkey King, two of Chinese people’s favorite mythological figures, was released in mid July to promote the animated feature Ne Zha and its movie.

Monkey King picking Royal Peaches.jpg

The 45-second clip caused a great stir on social media. Ne Zha humorously tackles the question, “Is Nezha a boy or a girl?”, a hilarious gag from the 2015 blockbuster Monkey King: Hero is Back, by proudly riding on the wind fire wheels into a men’s bathroom to confront Monkey King who had said the Third Lotus Prince was a girl.

Uploaded by Sina Film’s Weibo account, China’s version of Twitter, the video has so far logged 13.57 million views and 150,000 likes. Weibo users commented that the fun interaction between the two legendary heroes convulsed them with laughter with many tagging their friends to watch the video.

“Wow, this is so adorable! If there’s a sequel to Hero is Back, will Nezha be the guest star? I can’t wait to check out the film soon,” one Weibo user commented in their repost of the video.

On China’s major film reviewing site Douban, the film has scored 8.8 points out of 10, while on box office tracker Maoyan, the film has maintained a rating of 9.7, topping the site’s charts of 2019 films.

“After watching so many domestic animated films, only Ne Zha and Monkey King: Hero is Back have made me feel obsessed,” a Weibo user commented under the promotional video.

“Epic! I finished watching Ne Zha in tears. The content-rich story, vivid characters, and amazing visual effects, work together to create a 110-minute roller-coaster watching experience,” a Douban user commented.

“Bravo! Couldn’t believe a domestic animated film can be created with such a well-developed story. The image of Nezha in this film has been subverted but his rebellious spirit is well-established. I’m sure Ne Zha is gonna go viral this summer!” reads another comment on Douban.

The first-ever interaction between Ne Zha and Monkey King was made possible thanks to the friendship between Ne Zha’s director Jiaozi, and Tian Xiaopeng, director of Monkey King: Hero is Back.

Tian knew of Jiaozi and reached out to him following the success of his maiden film, See Through in 2005. Days earlier, Tian also posted a blog on his Weibo account suggesting that Jiaozi and Ne Zha have unlimited potential.

The Ne Zha director also commended Tian’s influence on him. He once said that because of the discouraging macro environment for domestic animation creators, he and many other animators used to focus most of their energy on cutting back on production costs.

But the sweeping success of Hero is Back enabled many domestic animators to see Chinese audiences’ support for quality animation productions, which reinforced the young director’s determination to go all out to create premium animations.

In many audiences’ minds, Ne Zha and Monkey King share a lot in common. On the one hand, both are lone dissidents and fighters, refusing to submit themselves to destiny. On the other hand, the two mythological figures have been recreated with bold innovation, giving audiences a brand-new take on the two classic images through animation.—edited by Yang Xiaoyu, chinadaily

Perfectionist and Realist
3This version of Ne Zhe came from the mind of director Jiaozi (Yang Yu). Born in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province in 1980, Yang loved to draw as a kid and dreamed of being a cartoonist. Despite his dreams, he decided to make the practical choice and pursue a career in medicine because of the stability and good income. In his third year at medical school, however, he was inspired by a fellow student who decided to give up medicine to pursue his dreams in software development. Although Yang decided to finish medical school, he began to study animation on his own. Upon graduation, he landed a job at a small 3D animation ad company in Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province.       

As a perfectionist, Yang wrote a total of 66 versions of the script and drew more than 100 versions of Ne Zha. The team put great effort into each detail of the film.  Ne Zha voice actress Lü Yanting told media that it wasn’t unusual for them to record a single line more than 100 times. She noted she almost lost her voice for a month after finishing the voice recording for the film.    

While Ne Zha is a mythical hero with extraordinary powers, audiences have found the story in the film very relatable—–in the film, Ne Zha was meant to be born a deity, but instead is reincarnated as a demon by mistake. From the very day he is born, people live in fear of the child and urges his father to kill him to prevent him from causing disasters. But his parents choose to protect him.

Director Yang said he hopes the film can encourage audience to reconsider what people think of them, just like how Ne Zha takes control of his life and changes people’s bias toward him. 
1“You are the one to say what kind of person you are. It all depends on the choices that you make, rather than believing in so-called destiny,” he said in an interview.    

Unlike other works about Ne Zha, his parents love and protect him with all their strength in the new film. This may be another reason why the film has captured the hearts of audiences, as love conquers all and helps Ne Zha change his life.—-edited from globaltimes

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Like the Wandering Earth set up the Chinese sci-fi blockbuster in the global market, Ne Zha will hopefully became another animation icon in Asia and even beyond. The exploding box office of the Chinese cartoon movie is going to attract another wave of investors and institutions into the cultural industry in China, we therefore are happy to witness the rise of China’s soft power along with its entertainment booms.

Edited by Joreal Qian