By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
After watching The Little Door Gods (小门神;), I’m hungry for wonton soup. This Chinese staple is a traditional delight, and this animation (which mixes traditional 2D with CGI) is just as fruitful. The story is very merry and it highlights the comedy between two nearly forgotten figures in this culture’s mythology. The only time they get respect is at the start of the new year (Julian calendar). The spirit world is up in arms about how this country’s citizens are more concerned about progress. That is, to embrace technical advance in a modern world. Instead of embracing their heritage, they are losing it by being disconnected with their past, namely with ancestor worship.
Back on Earth, in a small Chinese town slowly being modernized, a family business is struggling to stay ahead. This wonton shop has a 100-year old recipe that’s been left stewing for just as long and they are the only shop to feature posters of the two door gods. They are believed to ward off evil. However, that does not stop an enterprising competitor who wants to see this shop closed. Although young Raindrop (Yu Xinyi) is the central character to this story, this girl becomes the centre of attention when the spirits decide to visit the mortal realm to “fix” their lost honour.
The tall and handsome Yu Lei (Luo Hongming) wants to bring the apocalypse by summoning the demonic Nian. He hopes the entire pantheon will reveal themselves to the world to save China (and thus bringing worship back). The short and portly Shen Tu (Gao Xiaosong) remains at home, to prevent Night Spirit, a guardian of a different sort, from firing them because Lei left his post. They remain door gods in a limited way, only because of that one business who still respects traditions. But once that’s gone, their memory will also fade away.
Fortunately, Raindrop catches on reasonably fast. She’s a bundle of cuteness that’s a joy to watch. Lei and Tu are just as hilarious, reminding me of the classic comedy double acts from long ago. Lei is the straight man and Tu is the funny man. In China, this routine is known internationally as simply “Crosstalk” (相) instead of a fancy name. I could not help but notice they behave more like Abbott and Costello than Laurel and Hardy. Watching this movie in Mandarin was a challenge because I’m not as well-versed with this dialect when compared to being able to listen to a film in Cantonese with ease. The subtitles helped and the editing/completeness of the translation is a vast improvement over other imported video releases from previous years. With this country knowing they have an audience outside of their world, they are finally paying attention to developing easy to follow subtitles and dialogue.
Hopefully, the English dub will get released once this fun film gets a North American distributor. There’s plenty of colour, joy, laughs and amazement in this product that youths from around the world could enjoy. This movie nicely reflects back on the mythical past that other stories in this sub-genre rarely do, and that’s to acknowledge the past — the gods should not be forgotten.
According to the Internet Movie Database, Mel Brooks, Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Zendaya are attached to this project. With such an all-star cast, I’m guessing Brooks voices the elder Night Spirit, Streep the grandmother, Kidman as Raindrop’s mom and Zendaya as either Raindrop or Lei’s love interest. I’m leaning towards the latter, when considering this Disney actress knows how to play sass very well. This film made its debut at the Toronto International Kids Film Festival in April of this year.