By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Available to order (when back in stock) at Amazon USA
No feline can be contained in the release of The Legend of Hei (罗小黑战记). Those adorable big eyes of the woodland sprite will win over many cat lover’s heart. Also, this movie about Luo Xiaohei (an elfin) has a unique charm to it which makes me wonder if there’s any merchandise to buy. There’s plenty to choose from on eBay, and the licensing potential is huge. When he’s competing against Kuroneko Sama (from Trigun), the challenge will be in brand recognition in North American markets.
This movie was released in China during the Summer of 2019 and made limited circuits at film festivals the following year before a pandemic halted those plans. This prequel to the lesser known web series is at least more accessible and my hope is for Shout Factory to get the rights to the web series so both are globally available. This title quickly sold out at the shops I checked out today, and even Amazon had trouble keeping up. There’s a book which covers the online tale. When this cat is proving hard to contain, I’m hoping Hei has that forever home in place. (Thankfully I was able to view this title digitally)
The forest world this child spirit lived in was a lonely one. His home, destroyed by loggers, displaced everything he once knew. If it wasn’t for the help of his kind, he’d be lost. One creature is a hilarious fat cat who resembles the Tanuki stuffed doll you’d find in a Japanese gift shop. The demigods are more traditional, sticking to the Chinese aesthetics, and look like they belong in a Dragonball Z film than anywhere else. Another super-powered being, Stormend, offers a place located away from human civilization, but when a Guild Enforcer going by the name of Wuxia (Infinity in the translation) attacks, Hei has no place to go. This monk can manipulate certain forms of matter and easily befriends the boy.
This gentle and kind Wuxia takes him to Longyou County, China. This inland city is a far cry from his island paradise, and just why this metropolis is chosen is explained. It was a home to nature spirits. The humans once respected them, but when industrialization came in, also displaced them. Some blended in, despite knowing a civil war is brewing, and others want to kick out these interlopers. This theme is from Studio Ghibli’s Pon Poko, and the influences don’t end there. I firmly believe Hei is Ponyo, Mei (from Totoro) and many Tanuki all rolled into one!
This tyke has an ability to create his own space known as The Zone. He has no control, and the others want to take advantage of the kid. Like Tetsuo from Akira, the fight over who is to raise this child becomes the focus. The transition of this film to the web-series isn’t made clear yet. I suspect another movie (or web series) is required to address the eventual peace accords still to come, much like in Legend of Korra.
I found a few fan-subtitled episodes which reveal Hei stole a pearl from heaven, and on why he did the crime isn’t easily revealed (it spans the series). The theatrical tale shows Hei is nothing like Nezha. The only leanings to this lad’s innocence is in how creator/animator MTJJ sweetly paints his life. A greater theme–the conflict between communism and democracy–requires expansion; I suspect this writer/director wants to be careful in how to approach it since he’s still living in China.
4 Stars out of 5