Following a record-breaking release in the mainland last summer, which ended with Nezha crossing US$700 million to become the second most successful film of all time at China's domestic box office, Hong Kong audiences now get the chance to experience Jiaozi's animated fantasy blockbuster for themselves.
Very loosely inspired by Xu Zhonglin's 16th century novel, Investiture of the Gods, Nezha tells the origin story of the eponymous mythological hero, who was possessed by a demon before he was even born, but grew to become a fearsome immortal, and protector of his homeland.
Realised in vivid colours and attractive computer animation, Nezha smooths over the rough, violent edges of its hero's journey to deliver an energetic, family-friendly adventure just in time for the Lunar New Year holiday. Young audiences will doubtless delight at the precocious antics of the pint-sized protagonist, but may struggle to follow the intricacies of the film's fantastical foundations.
Opening with a barrage of backstory, Nezha details how a greedy chaos pearl absorbed the essence of the sun and the moon, before being broken in two by heaven's Supreme Lord.
One half, the Spirit Pearl, is stolen by an emissary of the Dragon King and taken to the underworld, while the other half, the Demon Pill, finds its way into the body of Lady Yin's unborn son.
After a long and strenuous pregnancy, Lady Yin gives birth to Nezha, who arrives fully formed and wielding great destructive power. His father, Lord Li, tasks the Master Immortal with training Nezha to use his powers for good, or incur the wrath of all residents of Chentang Pass.
The story of Nezha has been brought to the screen numerous times, as recently as last year's Nezha Conquers the Dragon King, but perhaps most famously in the 1979 animated feature, Prince Nezha's Triumph Against Dragon King. The character is renowned for his mischievous demeanour, as well as his wind fire wheels, and fire-tipped spear.
This new incarnation unfolds with the familiarity of a superhero origin story, as the precocious youngster reluctantly learns to master his powers, leading to an inevitable conflict with the Dragon King's own son, Ao Bing.
Writer-director Jiaozi defines the boy as an ostracised child, demonised by his community, who simply craves the love of his parents. But between the life lessons and moralising, Jiaozi devotes plenty of screen time to broad humour and explosive action.
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