piercing1 piercing1
Feature Film

Is ‘Piercing 1’ the First Indie Animated Feature from China?

I found out Liu Jian’s Piercing 1 when looking through the list of winning films at the Portuguese animation festival Cinanima which ended a few days ago. After reading up on it, I’m fascinated by everything about the film and can’t wait to see it. I don’t know when that’ll be, but Los Angeles folks are lucky because the film has its US premiere on December 4 at the Silent Movie Theater.

The film tells a contemporary story set during the recent financial crisis. The synopsis:

Zhang Xiaojun came from a poor rural area to the big city. He put himself through university and found a job in a shoe factory. In 2008, the financial crisis forced the closure of many factories. Zhang Xiaojun lost his job. One day, a supermarket guard beats him up, mistaking him for a thief.

In vain, he asks the supermarket manager for financial redress — his dearest wish is to return to his village to resume a simple farming life. Right before his departure, the police arrest him. The supermarket manager also has his problems. On a moonlit night, the storylines converge in a teahouse near the city rampart.

The artwork for Piercing 1 looks beautifully drawn, and in this article about the film, Jian says that he drew the entire film himself on a WACOM tablet over the course of three years. “One day, I talked to my wife about the idea of making an animation film,” he said. “With her permission, we sold our apartment, relied on our savings and we also got help from our relatives. The whole combination of money needed to produce the film was USD $100,000.”

It should be noted that most (if not every) animated feature in China is made with some sort of funding or support from the government. Jian’s film is truly independent; in fact, the lack of the Chinese government’s oversight means that the film is unlikely to ever be released in that country. Hopefully he’ll find a way to distribute it internationally. When asked about the government’s reaction, Jian said:

“I’ve gotten a mixed reaction. The film deals with a lot of negative aspects of life. Even though these aren’t China-specific, government censors are always sensitive. It seems that they’re happy that a Chinese film is gaining international acclaim, but at the same time, with the negative themes in the movie… right now they’re not doing anything to block the film, but they’re not doing anything to promote it, either.”

More information about the film can be found at its official website. If you’ve already seen it on the festival circuit, please share your thoughts in the comments.

UPDATE: This review of the film by Thierry Meranger appeared in Cahiers du Cinéma.

  • Anyone able to find a way to see the trailer? When I click on the link on this website I don’t get anything…

    The film looks very intriguing, I would definitely go see it if it plays in NYC.

  • Smudge

    Not to hijack your thread, but according to the WFAC website, they’re showing this film on Saturday night (11/20/2010) at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema in Waterloo, Ontario.

  • Maybe his server is temperamental. I watched the trailer, and although the character animation isn’t particularly elegant, the film is definately moody.

  • wgan

    hope this will ignite the soulless contemporary Chinese animation, looking forward

    • Chris Sobieniak

      We can only hope (or at least optimistic contemporary works).

  • Eric

    When I read ‘indie animated feature from China’ all of the stereotypes I have of the Chinese government came to mind. I thought, ‘is that even possible? I hope they don’t get arrested or something.’ But I digress. The film sounds interesting and hopefully I will get a chance to see it some day. I don’t know about film festivals or anything like that in NW Florida.

  • Katy

    This looks really interesting.. the animation/ drawing style reminds me a little of Beavis and Butthead. It has a rawness that feels almost closer to real life than smooth motion. (feel free to disagree, but I like this approach)

  • I’m generally against the overall trend to realism and unnecessary layers of detail in animation, but somehow Liu Jian’s rendering is really working beautifully here and lends things a nice, filmic look. I’m definitely interested to check this out.

  • The trailer can be found at http://www.le-joy.net/pianhua.wmv – it’s just that the HTML uses an odd Windows-only player.

    Looks very promising, although the actual animation is, uhm, “economical”. But it’s a unique style, reminds me a bit of Priit Pärn or Igor Kovalyov. It will be interesting to see how this works in the long run.

  • eeteed

    i watched the trailer, and the film looks very interesting.

    i hope it does well.

  • I saw it at Stuttgart, and though there are interesting techniques, I felt it was a film that might have worked better as a live-action film. Lots of dialogue, and some intriguing situations, but little that ventured beyond.

  • VS

    Just saw it. At Tallinn’s Dark Night Film Festival’s Animated Dreams section.

    And i wondered…

    How the government didn’t sue the creator. Movie criticises Chinese society quite a lot.

    It is well drawn, and has some nice pieces of music inserted.

    I’d recommend it.
    Very moody one.

  • I have seen the film recently at the WFAC. My opinion is that it is very good. While it is indeed rather “piercing” and a very critical commentary of the society that the director sees around him, it is not unrelentingly negative. There is a dignity in how the film plays out. Indeed, dignity is just about the only thing that is left at the very end of the film.

    The director was refused a visa out of the country and the Chinese government did not allow the film out either (what was shown was a copy smuggled out through Japan). Although this was seemingly just due to the typical bureaucracy, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone really didn’t want this film out.

  • I watched the film today at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
    I loved it! Marvelous and inspiring.
    Highly recommended.