Playing at Select Theatres Beginning Jan 20
Coming to Digital on April 11 and Home Video April 25th, 2023.
Light Chaser Animation‘s New Gods cinematic universe has another hero, and his name is Yang Jian (voiced by Wang Kai). He’s also known as Erlang Shen, a god with a truth-seeing eye, but in this film it has even greater power which can’t be defined.
Thankfully, no prior knowledge of who he is or the prior film are needed (Nezha Reborn) is on Netflix and my review can be read here), but it’ll help explain the surprise bits found in this tale. In this second film to this franchise, titled New Gods Yang Jian, he gave up his godhood to become a mortal, a bounty hunter, and for much of the tale, he has no regrets over this decision.
Despite everything we know about how the Divine World fell apart, nobody in this new utopia is truly at peace. The introduction talks about an averted civil war, but all is not well. In Penglai, a futuristic neo-feudal tech city located upon a mountaintop, the people live in relative peace. But this home of the gods may well become a target should a boy assemble the pieces of a destructive lamp. The beauty this location represents is just one of many places this film visits. The look of Ancient China juxtaposed with the industrial age looks wonderful. When the adventure moves to the countryside, the landscapes look like they’re straight from a bamboo tapestry. The softer use of colours is not always pronounced, and that helps with giving this movie a better richness than those highly saturated works other CGI films, like Kung Fu Panda, prefer to emphasise.
As for the soundtrack, I get shivers when I hear Jian play his harmonica. Those moments call back to the age-old Westerns, and when it gets jazzy, those moments do more than spotlight the action. This movie is a pastiche that also includes other well-known works from anime, science-fiction, pirate and steampunk narratives. I can name a lot of Japanese productions this movie is no doubt inspired by. Although some may argue this blending is distracting, I’m loving it! They exist to emphasize how many divine kingdoms exist. I’m guessing there’s at least four. Although the story takes place mostly in the Immortal Realm, which looks like a fusion of Ancient Chinese architecture overtop Steampunk, there’s also the fairy (representing India) and the mortal realm where Donghai City (from the first movie) most likely lays. While that very human world borrows from the movie Akira, just when events are unfolding depends on Jian hopping planes of existance lands to find the lad
Ultimately, New Gods Yang Jian is about rescuing humanity from its own foibles and taming a certain savage beast. While the mortals work hard to earn an income, the gods nestled safely in their caves are planning how to rebuild their heaven. As for Jian, Kang (Wen Jingyuan) and Yao (Tang Shuiyu) who make up the motley crew targeted by Master Yuding (Li Lihong) and Wan Luo (Ji Guanlin, the woman who hires them), what they desire for this world is nothing more than signaling Reformation.
I want to compare this gang of bounty hunters to the group from Cowboy Bebop. Unfortunately, there’s no Faye Valentine equivalent unless viewers want to put Wan in that role. But for comic relief, Xiaotian (Liu Xiaoyu) is a shapeshifting dog whose flexibility is like that of Edward and the portrayal is just too close. Sadly, they don’t factor into the entire tale and disappear mid-way through the film.
When this team works together to find Chanxiang, I’m excited! However, Jang soon finds catching his young nephew is not easy. He’s always a step ahead, and as for putting together the magical Lotus Lamp which can free his mom from a mountain prison, he has no qualms in what the fallout will entail. We’re not just watching another movie about gods dividing up China, but instead in what one kid can do since his misguided agenda is widely believed to destroy a world. In some ways, this tale becomes increasingly familiar, and I suspect there’s some allusions to Dante’s The Divine Comedy to make me excited with joy.
But here, the focus is really about the Three Heavenly Calamities, and I can’t wait to see if this series will come to explore each of them, and show how the world rebuilds like after Ragnorak.
As for what’s next, the mid-credits clip shows a different kind of film is in the works. Another movie is promised but it may not be a “New Gods” chapter. Instead, what’ll be offered is “New Culture” according to inf.news (spoiler alert). This report leaves me wondering if this instalment is going the way of how the Fengshan Cinematic Universe group of films has come to a halt. Let’s hope not because the teaser after suggests Sun Wukong will be important to the later tales. Maybe Light Chaser Animation is simply taking a break until a proper New Gods tale can be fleshed out. Both Investiture of the Gods and Journey to the West have many stories that can be adapted, but as for bringing these heroes together requires time to find a point worth getting them all to unite. It can’t be like how the MCU does it with Avengers, but instead should be in how they band together to bring all of China’s many separate kingdoms together to represent a whole.
4 Stars out of 5