New animated film based on a mythological figure smashes box-office records.
Chinese animated film Ne Zha has proved to be a big winner in this summer's box office. (Photo: China Daily)
Smashing box-office records in animation, the film Ne Zha has proved to be a dark horse, tipped to lift up the Chinese film industry, which has experienced a slowdown in the past five months.
The film, which topped the mainland's ticket-revenue charts for four consecutive days, has grossed more than 800 million yuan ($116 million) since it hit domestic theaters on Friday, according to live box-office tracker Maoyan.
Ne Zha's takings totaled over 100 million yuan in the first day itself, surpassing the threshold figure faster than any other Chinese animated film.
The film has also broken two other box-office records.
By bringing in 138.5 million yuan on its opening day, Ne Zha has overtaken previous record-holder Despicable Me 3 to top the country's opening-day charts for animated films. It also earned 225 million yuan on the second day, an increase of 23.3 percent from the record set by Disney's Zootopia in terms of single-day box-office rankings for all animated films in China.
With word-of-mouth praise online, Ne Zha has also seen a rise in the number of screenings, a barometer of popularity. By Monday, the movie was set to be shown across 49 percent of China's nearly 65,000 screens-up from 33.5 percent on its debut day.
As the first ever Chinese animated film to be released in the Imax format, the film has also generated approximately 54 million yuan (including paid sneak preview screenings) in its opening weekend, setting a new Imax record for the best opening weekend of all animated films released in China.
Loosely based on the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) novel Fengshen Yanyi (The Investiture of the Gods), the film is about a mythological figure who fights against unfair destiny.
The 110-minute film, helmed by 1980s-born director Yang Yu, better known as Jiaozi ("dumpling"), offers a retelling of the household tale that will strike a chord with a modern Chinese audience.
In the novel, Ne Zha is a rebellious teenager who kills whoever gets in his way. His relationship with his father, Li Jing, is tense. His father, a cowardly and selfish commander who governs the fictional port of Chen Tang Guan, forces Ne Zha to commit suicide over an error. Ne Zha is reborn as a three-headed, six-armed deity who rides on two magical "wind-and-fire" wheels to fight his enemies.
"I wanted to change the stereotypical telling of the original story. This film is about an individual who fights against prejudice and social exclusion," says Yang.
In the movie, Ne Zha is born with a "cursed destiny". He is unfairly treated by local villagers who believe that the naughty, yet good-hearted, child will grow up to be a public threat. Another deviation from the original sees the father depicted as a noble man who would sacrifice his own life to rescue his son.
With rave reviews online, exemplified by 8.7 of 10 points on Douban, some industry analysts estimate the film will overtake Zootopia, the highest-grossing animated film of all-time in China.
Li Baochuan, an expert in animation at Hangzhou Normal University, says Ne Zha shows the development of animation techniques in China and has reduced the gap with the world's best.
Cao Xiaohui, vice-president of the animation institute at the Beijing Film Academy, says the success of Ne Zha shows that animated films inspired by Chinese mythology are a new trend.
"In the past few years, most influential Chinese animated films were inspired by our own culture, such as Monkey King: Hero is Back, Big Fish & Begonia and White Snake. Chinese theatergoers are more receptive to seeing such familiar stories being brought to life on the big screen," says Cao.
According to the distributors of Ne Zha, the film will have English subtitles for overseas markets.