Originally slated for February 7th, 2020, the second-part of the Fengshen Cinematic Universe went into stasis until a brief theatrical rollout in October 2020. Now, though, nearly a year after it was to hit cinemaplexes, Jiang Ziya (also known as Legend of Deification or Jiang Ziya: Legend of Deification) comes available on home video to continue the adaptation of shenmo novel “Investiture of the Gods.” The first part, Ne Zha, explored the notion of controlling ones destiny and the importance of autonomy amid a rollicking frenzy of animated action. This made sense as Ne Zha focused on a young boy learning to confront his destiny. For Jiang Ziya, the action is still there, but it’s presented in a more traditional wuxia style whose poetry is not lost among the dynamic action.
War grips the land of the Shang Dynasty as the Nine-Tailed Fox (Shan Xin) betrays the emperor, leading the Fox Clan for domination of the mortal realm. Serving as Heaven’s general is Jiang Ziya (voiced by Zheng Xi/Christopher Sabat), who defeats Nine-Tailed Fox and is offered the role as leader of all gods if he kills the fox demon. However, Jiang Ziya stays his hand upon learning that Nine-Tailed Fox is somehow connected to an innocent girl, one who will lose her life if Nine-Tailed Fox dies. Banished from Heaven for disobeying orders, Jiang Ziya lives in exile by the North Sea with the shame of disobedience. It’s not until 10 years go by that that an unexpected arrival to the North Sea offers an opportunity to discover the truth.
After seeing Ne Zha last year, I’ve been eagerly awaiting Jiang Ziya and it does not disappoint. The animation is matured, letting go of the more childish circular designs of Ne Zha for sharper angles denoting the violence inherent in the story. The opening, in particular, is quite breathtaking as the prologue distracts from the massive info dump through the gongbi-esque art direction, elevating the action into something epic. Though the film transitions into something more conventional once the prologue is over, the staging of the action sequences maintains that same feeling of vastness which one might only feel during a particularly harrowing live-action sequence. There are a few moments wherein the action slows down as something passes the focus of the camera which hints at perhaps a 3D experience as part of the theatrical release, but, instead of being a distraction, the slowing down offers a moment for the audience to process what they’re seeing. For instance, a beautifully constructed sequence sees Jiang Ziya in an altercation with restless spirits whose gathered forces enable them to control the skeleton of a long dead beast. Without the slowing down, the audience would focus on the skeleton and how the spirits move it in attempts to puncture Jiang Ziya. This is not where first-time feature directors Teng Cheng and Wei Li want you to be focused and the slowing down enables the audience to understand that the danger to be addressed isn’t coming from the seemingly animated skeleton, but from the spirits who maneuver it. This sequence could easily be shrugged off as a narrative moment that puts the aggrieved characters on a path of amelioration, yet, the focus on the souls and the following explanation from Jiang Ziya as to what and who they are begins a shift to what Jiang Ziya is really about: the weight of war. It’s easy enough to believe that you are righteous and the enemy is wicked, especially when you’re following the orders of The Revered Master of Jingxu Hall (Heaven) and your enemy is literally a demon. But what of the soldiers who fight by your side? What of the people whose lives were turned upside down in the conflict? How does one measure the good they’ve done or what good may come when the land itself bears the scars?
While there is no requirement to have seen Ne Zha prior to watching Jiang Ziya, it certainly helps to understand the mid-credits sequence that is surely to have fans of the first film giggling in their seats. That same sequence ends with a message from the Fengshen Cinematic Universe wishing everyone health, happiness, and a desire to be altogether soon. It’s a hopeful message, even sweet, as the pandemic is better controlled in some areas while others still argue over how best to reclaim a sense of normalcy. In times like these, stories like Jiang Ziya are more important than ever. Even when the story goes to some dark places, like using cultural traditions long since let go of to create the internal logic, there is always hope. In the case of the character Jiang Ziya, it’s the recognition that the act of defiance is not in opposition of the greater good, that one cannot truly care for people if you’re willing to sacrifice one as though they are not worth the same as the many, that blind devotion is not the same as love and absolutism only breeds distrust and failure. I’ve already written about the rebellious messaging within Ne Zha and that aspect continues well into Jiang Ziya. These are not direct tethers, where the actions of one seem connected to the other, but it’s easy to see how future stories, should these characters engage with each other, come together as one.
In regard to the home release, there are no bonus materials included. All that purchasers get are previews for upcoming Well Go USA releases, a teaser trailer for Jiang Ziya, as well as the full trailer, and options for language and subtitles. Additionally, where Ne Zha came in a 4K UHD option, Jiang Ziya does not. Considering the beauty of the animation, I’m particularly saddened by this and the UHD would certainly make home viewing even more transportive.
Armed with beautiful animation and a compelling story, Jiang Ziya is well worth the wait. A word of caution, though, that while the story is not graphic by any means, the depiction of violence may not be suitable for younger viewers. You’ll know your kids better than anyone, so trust your gut if going in blind, but I do advise that this film is more appropriate for audiences older than, say, the Frozen II (2019) crowd. Adventure and fantasy await all who join Jiang Ziya on his quest for the truth, but not all who can journey should. You know what I mean?
There are no bonus features available on the Jiang Ziya home release.
In select theaters October 1st, 2020.
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital February 9th, 2021.
For more information, go to the Well Go USA official Jiang Ziya website.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.