The New Gods series from Light Chaser is a refreshing approach to cultural stories. Each one of their films, even if not listed with the New Gods label (White Snake and Green Snake) allows the audience to engage with the material in brand-new ways by using new technology and a different perspective to tell the stories. It can be as complex as shifting Nezha from the classic period of the tale into a fictional modern era in which the god is reborn as a motorcycle-riding firebrand aided by the Monkey King as he battles the King of the Dragons who’s been reconceptualized as a water-hording CEO. Or as simple as telling a story of displacement in time (Green Snake). In a weird way, Yang Jian is a mixture of the two, shifting the adventure primarily from the natural realm into the immortal plane so that we can see what it’s like for a fallen servant of Heaven to exist without purpose. Thanks to Shout! Factory, fans of New Gods: Yang Jian can opt either to enjoy the GKids Films animated adventure on digital April 11th or on physical formats April 25th. No matter which option you choose, the resulting tale satisfies from start to finish.
If you’re interested a spoiler-free take on Yang Jian, head to the initial theatrical release review. Moving forward, we will discuss the film without concern of ruining any of the mysteries within.
12 years ago, warrior Yang Jian (voiced by Wang Kai) took part in a ritual to prevent a great disaster and, in the process, his sister sacrificed her life to ensure success. Since then, his third eye, a great source of his power, has been closed, blinding him so as not to be able to tap into his full potential. Now, Yang Jian works with a group of individuals as a bounty hunter in the immortal realm, taking odd jobs where they can to keep them afloat. His latest job seems easy at first, a simple tracking gig, but the target, Chenxiang (voiced by Li Lanling) ends up being the center of a larger mystery, one which intends to return Yang Jian back to the place where disaster struck so long ago and with greater stakes at play.
Even on a rewatch, the narrative of Yang Jian is complex; however, it’s far easier to follow as the windy conspiracy tale is revealed to the audience. Frankly, it makes Yang Jian a far more engaging watch because the audience needs to lean-in if they’re going to remain clear of who is who and their allegiances, what’s their relationship to the other, and why betrayals even occur. In this case, it all boils down to control and sacrifice. Yang Jian’s master, Master Yuding (LI Lihong), refuses to give up his home, even though doing so not only breaks apart his supposedly cherished student’s family, but is in opposition to the cycle of life (the mountain holds a phoenix, after all). In my initial review, I described the mystery as a shell game and I stand by it as when characters are introduced, their motives are kept close to their chest, and alliances are seemingly constant in their shifting. Each time we think we understand a relationship, something new is revealed that makes us question everything else we’ve seen or helps us to better understand something within the framework created by this new piece of information. This makes the deadly and backstabbing introduction of Chenxiang make greater sense, while also making him far more sympathetic in the process. Likewise, the once-noble master becomes the hidden enemy responsible for tearing apart Yang Jian’s family, a reality made all the more painful as we learn that Chenxiang is Yang Jian’s nephew. The only one who is stalwart is Yang Jian, a perfect audience surrogate, as he’s just as unsettled by each revelation as we are. To the credit of script and vocal performance, Yang Jian’s countenance never falters, his cool and calm demeanor unwavering even when the very ground he stands upon is transformed into an in ink-wash painting (a supremely cool sequence that I can only imagine played wondrously with audiences in the theater). It’s this general coolness, amplified by the bluesy Guo Haowei’s (Nezha Reborn) score (which is frustratingly hard to locate for personally enjoyment), which makes Yang Jian as much fun on subsequent watches as it is on the first.
Regarding the included bonus features, they’re an interesting mix of in-depth materials that don’t touch as much on the creative process of bringing an animated film to life as one may expect. In total, there are four featurettes that run around 52 minutes and a four-minute auto-run art gallery. The first is an interview with director Zhao Ji split into four parts, each part broken up with clips from the film as well as a title card that identifies the general topic of the section. Some of what you’ll learn includes how the idea for the film came up in 2019 when White Snake was released and New Gods: Nezha Reborn (2021) was in production. He explains how with Yang Jian being the seventh film for Light Chaser, they wanted to try new techniques in the animation process, though that’s not as deeply discussed here. He does, however, explore why they changed Yang Jian from a high-ranking and respected warrior to someone on the bottom, all while providing context of what the original story was like and the explanation for the changes they made. Zhao Ji does talk about the art direction, technical construction of spaces, as well as costume design (textures, etc.), why there wasn’t an intention to connect Nezha to this film (which is odd considering the end credit sequences of both films), the voice actors (Yang Jian specifically by name) and what he admires about them. He also briefly touches on his sense of comfort and confidence making Yang Jian as his second independently directed film, even going so far as to share details on the filmmaking process with all the voices and variables, with the notion of being open to navigate different views as director. The interview covers a great deal in nearly 16 minutes, but be forewarned that it can be a little difficult to read as the subtitles are white and Zhao Ji is wearing a white shirt and his background is lightly colored, meaning that it’s a lot to see through to focus on the words.
Next up is the six-minute featurette “Animating New Gods: Yang Jian with Zhao Ji” in which Movie Hunter Editor Booka from Movie Hunter, Mini Cinema designation sits down with Zhao Ji to conduct an interview. It opens with a rapid-fire Q&A before shifting to a brief Q&A with film clips intercut throughout. There is discussion of the animation creation, specifically digging into the thought process of the ink wash paintings sequences. Zhao Ji provides a brief tour of the team, focusing on the art director (who also served as the Art Director for Nezha). We get glimpses of animatics, mo-cap work, and various in-progress scenes (like the dancing sequence), but we aren’t walked through any of it. For Light Chaser fans, Zhao Ji is asked about the next project from the animation studio, 30,000 Miles from Chang’an, providing a bit of information on its status.
If you’re more interested in the cast and recording of Yang Jian then the final two featurettes is where you’ll want to focus, but also where you’ll spend the bulk of your time as “Original Cast Interview” runs just over 16 minutes and “Arts and Culture Spotlight” runs 13 minutes. The former is a sit-down in the same place as the one-on-one with Zhao Ji, except this time the director is joined by actors Wang Kai and Ji Guanlin. All three engage in the discussion, answering questions from an unseen interviewer, though we get to see the questions on-screen this time. As before, the interview is intercut with film clips and some behind-the-scenes images with the cast in the booth recording. This featurette offers an inside look into their performances as well as the technical approach to making the movie, the ideas, and themes. The latter feature is a highly-produced affair that seems to have been developed to run in China ahead of the release, perhaps on a television broadcast. This is where animation fans will get the information they want on how the film was made, not just the mo-cap work, but what it’s like to transform 2D storyboards into a 3D movie. Character Design Director Cui Yuemi offers her thoughts, as well, on the details of the characters. This is the first time we hear from someone other than Zhao Ji about this. Dubb Director Yang Tianxiang and Producer Lu Xi also offer their thoughts on production, specifically animation and scene design. This translates to more behind-the-scenes footage of the cast (more than the prior two mentioned) being shown at work. The same work-in-progress material is shown with various sequences being put together in front of us so that we can see the various layering techniques used to create the finished product. Lu Xi mentions that the scenery itself, due to its complexity, was incredibly difficult to complete in order to flesh it out properly.
As mentioned, the Art Gallery is set-up to auto-run once you select the option, with the home viewing audience being guided through 47 slides of character designs, templates, color palettes, landscapes, and more.
Before closing out this home release review, let’s be clear that, as of this writing, there is no word as to whether Green Snake or Nezha Reborn will receive U.S. physical editions. As of now, only White Snake and Yang Jian are available from Shout! Factory and GKids Films, while the other two are available for streaming on Netflix in the U.S. For physical media proponents, being able to have the full collection of Light Chaser’s Investiture of the Gods stories together is going to have to wait. But, at the very least, what we’re offered on-disc enables home viewing audiences to learn more about the creation and development of the film they enjoy.
A win is a win.
New Gods: Yang Jian Special Features:
- Interview with Director Zhao Ji (15:39)
- Animating New Gods: Yang Jian with Zhao Ji (6:17)
- Original Cast Interview (16:24)
- Arts and Culture Spotlight (13:05)
- Art Gallery (3:58)
Available on digital April 11th, 2023.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD April 25th, 2023.
For more information, head to GKids Films’s official New Gods: Yang Jian webpage.
To purchase a physical edition, head to the official Shout! Factory New Gods: Yang Jian webpage.
Categories: Films To Watch, Home Release, Recommendation
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