"The Legend of Hei" "The Legend of Hei"

American audiences will get a chance to see The Legend of Hei, the Chinese film that topped the box office in its home country and has drawn comparisons to Studio Ghibli. Shout! Studios has acquired all North American rights, in a partnership with France’s Play Big.

The fantasy feature tells the story of a cat demon who strikes out in search of a new home after his forest habitat is destroyed. Directed by Ping Zhang, who goes by the name MTJJ, the film opened at the top of the Chinese box office in September 2019, and went on to gross $48 million. Its festival run included Annecy, where it played in competition this year. A sequel is in development.

Shout! and Play Big have assembled an English-language voice cast full of Chinese American talent, including Emi Lo (Bofuri, Valentine), Aleks Le (Funan, Ne Zha), Howard Wang (Dragon Ball Z, Marvel Avengers Academy), Kaiji Tang (Justice League, Grantz-O), Caleb Yen (Black Clover, Scott & Crowley), and Suzie Yeung (Kemono Friends).

MTJJ created The Legend of Hei as a prequel to his Flash series The Legend of Luo Xiaohei, which found a large following on the Chinese video-sharing platform Tudou. Initially making and releasing the episodes alone, he eventually assembled a production team after he started to monetize the series through merchandising.

The Legend of Hei took five years to produce. As MTJJ told China.org.cn, “We have experimented with dozens of various art forms in creating the film. This is our art exploration in every possible direction until we could find the current tone.” The 2d animation is by Beijing Han Mu Chun Hua Animation and MTJJ Animation.

Melissa Boag, Shout!’s senior VP of family entertainment, told Variety (who first reported the acquisition): “There’s a winsome combination of heart, soul, fantasy, and altogether an extraordinary adventure for the family and animation enthusiasts.” She compared The Legend of Hei to the nature-themed anime features Princess Mononoke and Miyori’s Forest.

There are as yet no specifics on the film’s North American release.

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