Too Fast & Furious? On Jiang Ziya: Legend of Deification

16 Oct

JIANG ZIYA (2020) - Official Movie Site - Get TicketsBy Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Although studios aren’t giving Jiang Ziya: Legend of Deification (姜子牙) the fanfare it needs for an Autumn 2020 release, at least the bonus post credit sequence is in theme! Word of mouth isn’t enough to announce to the world that the sequel to Ne Zha is as colourful and visually spectacular. Eventually, fans of this shared universe will see the heroes we are being introduced to embark on a combined adventure.

This former general of the celestial army was banished from Kunlan, a city in the clouds which represents one of several heavens, because he disobeyed his lord’s order to kill Su Dajin, who is possessed by Nine-Tailed (Ji Guanlin), a fox demon. But before he could execute her, she showed how her supernatural life connects to a mortal, Xiao Jiu (Yang Ning), a young girl. He can’t destroy a soul at the cost of another.

The various philosophies to which the writers of this film draws from don’t always add up. One aspect of Confucianism focuses on what is acceptable behaviour in societal situations and another segment is about Ren, which translates to ‘love’ or ‘kindness’ towards others.

The Revered Master, the lord to which Jiang serves, is hardly just; he ordered a genocide of all fox kind and a question if whether he’ll ascend exists. Part of the appeal of this film series is in how imperfect the gods are. Nobody is above the law. We know this from the fables in the Bible in how God sends angels (or Satan) to test the fidelity of the devout.

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Much like how Richard Garfield designed Ultima IV: Quest for the Avatar, to ascend into a higher state of being is determined by the choices players make. This movie is similar such that the titular character has to make decisions about his role in the mortal realm. Does he stay true to his ideals or blindly follow his lord’s orders? He gets a chance to return to Kunlan after his eventual defeat of the fox demon, but does he accept?

However, there’s no peace between the three realms. A larger conflict is finally revealed and I hope the third movie based on Erlang Shen‘s exploits tells all. His third eye may well be the only way to see who is truly manipulating events.

The Revered Master is not Buddha and his order to destroy the many lives of others for his sake really must be questioned. When China is home to several spiritual movements—Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Folk—it’s tough to say where this deity hails from. This individual may be Han (a variant of Dao) or Bön (Tibet) because of his appearance.

Because of this mish mash of regional beliefs, the dive pub Jiang visited features a few European mainstays and unless these beings hitched a ride from a trader on the Silk Road, it’s safe to say a lot of free license was used to make this work of entertainment accessible to a wider audience.

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The finer points will get missed, but anyone who knows their Chinese legends and lore is more likely to understand the details–especially on how this story ties into Confucianism. Nine Tailed is the translation given to the villainess. But I can’t help but wonder if a better name for the Huli Jing (狐狸精) exists. She wanted to rescue her kin from purgatory. As the sole survivor, I’m not surprised she’s furious at the world and is angry with The Revered Master’s edict.

The book Investiture of the Gods this film takes inspiration from is not in verbatim. The animators spent more effort in the introduction to get viewers up to speed, but sadly, it goes by too fast in an animated blitz pah instead of slowing things down to offer newcomers a proper backstory to make sense of it all. A better explanation comes from Nine-Tailed much later in the narrative.

Until a formal announcement by Chengdu Coco Cartoon Studios is made about the next project, confusion exists as to when part three will be out. The teaser trailer included after the credits reveals Deep Sea; God with Three Eyes (二郎神之深海蛟龙 or Erlang Shen: the Deep Sea Dragon) as the next adventure coming very soon. This adventure featuring the god Erlang Shen is as visually promising. However, according to the Tumbler site Dork Shadows, Richmond, BC based October Studio released a statement saying it is not part of the Fengshen Cinematic Universe, and we have two movies! The untitled third film is not ready but is in development for eventual release.

4 Stars out of 5

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