By John Liu
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“Ne Zha, a boy or girl?” A stranger asking this question would have quickly gotten a “Google it yourself” answer, but this was coming from the Russo brothers (directors of “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Endgame”) on Weibo after congratulating Yang Yu, aka Jiaozi, the director of “Ne Zha,” for breaking box office records in China.
“Ne Zha” is based on the Chinese mythological book: The Investiture of the Gods. In the beginning, there was a Chaos Pearl that began spreading chaos. Eventually the Chaos Pearl was contained, and the Primeval Lord of Heaven split it into the Demon and Heaven Pearl. The Lord chooses Taiyi (Zhang Jiaming), a clumsy drunk immortal to guard the pearls and implant the Heaven Pearl into Commander Li (Hao Chen) and Madam Yin’s (Lu Qi) unborn son.
Unfortunately, an intruder steals the Heaven Pearl and unleashes the Demon Pearl on Yin’s son.
This boy is destined to bring chaos to everyone around and will perish in three years by a lighting bolt. Commander Li and Madam Yin decided to raise the demon child, but withhold his identity from him. While growing up, Ne Zha (Lu Yanting) is imprisoned in his home, but he figures out how to escape. Every time he does, he wreaks havoc on the local villagers. As a result, they despise him. One day, Ne Zha meets Ao Bing and discover they both have a lot in common. Unfortunately, Ao Bing has his own destiny to fulfill.
I love the universe and the animation in Ne Zha’s universe. One particular touching moment is when Ne Zha is playing jianzi (hacky sack) with his mom. Ne Zha’s demon power makes it impossible for any human to keep up with him, and Yin futilely tries to keep up. Even though his mother loses repeatedly, she continues because it is Ne Zha’s favorite game. I can’t recall seeing jianzi in any American movie that I watched and this made me nostalgic for my days in Chinese Camp where I kicked a feathered jianzi with other kids. Next, there is a funny sequence with a direct reference to “The Terminator,” and possible copyright violation. I’m not sure how popular “The Terminator” is over there in China, but judging by the audience reaction, I think I was one of the few people who laughed since I understood that reference.
Many of my friends know I am a fan of IMAX 3D, but have high standards regarding this premium format and will not pay the $7 surcharge unless it’s exceptional. The movie must have parts specifically formatted for IMAX—this movie had none. The 3D was decent, but if you are expecting to get a hacky sack coming towards your face, it’s not happening. I would have been happy paying less and enjoying the 2D version coming out this week. Thanks to a slow movie week in the United States without any major IMAX releases, this was the perfect opportunity for Ne Zha to secure IMAX theaters in multiple countries.
The movie as a whole felt solid and fresh. I enjoyed the underlying message of not accepting one’s fate and to fight until the end. The character Ne Zha felt lovable, and the audience could empathize with his choices. There is something here for everyone and I found the jokes more hit than miss. A running joke about a man screaming like a girl is overdone. Toilet humor, fat shaming, drunken behavior, and suicide humor are fair game in this movie. It is interesting to see what humor is suitable for everyone in China compared to U.S. movies. The climax had some gorgeous fighting scenes in a painting, but did not add much to the story. The English subtitles could have used slightly better translations. Other than those negatives, I am thankful “Ne Zha” was released in the U.S., and everyone should try to catch it in theaters this week.
Ne Zha will be showing in only 2D at AMC Pacific Place, Regal Meridian, Regal Thornton, Cinemark Lincoln Square, and AMC Oak Tree on Sept. 6.
John can be reached at email@example.com.