Review by Sean Boelman
The second film in Light Chaser Animation’s New Gods series merging Chinese folklore with modern storytelling, New Gods: Yang Jian, is one of the biggest misfires in animation in recent history. Despite some absolutely gorgeous animation for its backgrounds, the storytelling leaves something to be desired.
The movie, a modernization of popular stories from Chinese mythology, follows the once-powerful god Yang Jian (also known as Erlang Shen) as he works as a bounty hunter, only for him to be recruited for a job that brings him back to his years as a deity. This definitely is a bit more traditional than Nezha Reborn, but that doesn’t make it any more effective.
It’s really hard to tell exactly who the audience is for this, because it’s rather violent to be aimed at children, but it’s also too rudimentary in its plotting to appeal to adults. As a result, it gets stuck in this weird limbo where it doesn’t really have a target audience of people it is likely to satisfy.
Somehow, the action in this movie peaks really early. There is a sequence early on used to establish the heroic nature of our characters in which they fight a monster that looks like a giant hand. This sequence — which is quite brief — is the most fun viewers will have in the two-hour-plus runtime.
Of course, as is the case with most films by Light Chaser animation, the strength is not its writing but its animation. The world that they have created for this movie is absolutely luscious — a perfect blend of modern and traditional. If only the filmmakers had put as much effort into ensuring this wonderfully-built world makes sense within the context of the story, this could have been epic.
Although the film isn’t entirely reliant on the audience knowing Chinese mythology, a passing familiarity will likely make things feel much more logical. Otherwise, viewers will likely approach this as just another outlandish fantasy movie — and a pretty underdeveloped one at that. The idea of mixing modern archetypes with historical text is intriguing, but it is not executed well here.
Ultimately, the film ends with a finale that is meant to feel emotional and triumphant, yet it doesn’t leave viewers feeling much of anything. It feels like little more than the end of an adventure by a nondescript hero. Perhaps the emotional beats will resonate more with those who have a pre-existing familiarity with the underlying mythology, but for general audiences, it doesn’t pack much of a punch.
New Gods: Yang Jian certainly impresses at times with its animation, but it would have been nice to see this animation used in the service of an actually interesting story. Granted, the movie was a hit in its home country, so maybe it simply doesn’t translate well to Western audiences.
New Gods: Yang Jian hits theaters beginning January 20.