Jiang Ziya Jiang Ziya

Jiang Ziya is dominating the Chinese box office, while making smaller inroads into North America’s shaky theatrical market. If seeing it in a cinema isn’t an option, you can make do with the next-best thing: these behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Encore Films, Jiang Ziya’s Singaporean distributor, has released a collection of promotional spots packed with interviews with cast and crew. One video focuses on the film’s themes and animation production, while another delves into the voice acting.

The videos offer English-speaking audiences a rare insight into the production of a tentpole Chinese animated feature. We’re shown production materials — turnarounds, storyboards, etc — and a glimpse of a testy dailies session. Li Wei, one of the film’s two directors, comments briefly on the film’s eye-popping 2d sequence.

No less interesting is what the videos tell us about the aspirations of mainstream Chinese animation, or at least of this particular crew. The producer, Yi Qiao of Coloroom Pictures (Beijing Enlight’s in-house animation studio), plays up the artists’ experience in international studios, emphasizing that co-director Xin Wang was previously cinematic character supervisor at Blizzard Entertainment: “For a Chinese, this is seemingly the highest possible achievement.”

Or consider what the film’s other director Cheng Teng, an animation prodigy barely into his thirties, has to say about the film’s subject matter. “These elements of China’s are actually especially cool,” he says. “At the time, I felt that these elements were not well-packaged by our modern entertainment. For example, Japan has packaged its ninjas, America has packaged its cowboys. I feel that China’s wuxia or fantasy elements are much cooler compared to those.”

Li Xia, another of the film’s co-directors, puts it succinctly: “If, through this project, we can build up a complete industrial system like that of Hollywood’s, then I think we have succeeded.” They’re on the right track: Jiang Ziya is currently the highest-grossing animated film of 2020, ahead of Pixar’s Onward, according to Box Office Mojo. (The film is listed on their using its full Chinese title: Jiang Ziya: Legend of Deification).

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