‘The Legend of Hei’ Follows in ‘Dahufa’ Inkwash Footsteps

Slowly But Surely, Chinese Indie Animation is Finding Its Voice

By Ryan Carroll, Editor-at-Large

Sept. 2019

An indie feature animation film opened in China on a Saturday taking the weekend box-office number one spot at $12.3MMUSD over a two day period, and continued to maintain its hold through the week. Making nearly $20MM before the following weekend.

This feature animation is The Legend of Hei.

The Legend of Hei is the feature film spin-off of a popular webtoon, and is the passion project of its filmmaker, and Xiao Hei creator, Zhang Ping and his team taking nearly five years to produce.

The Legend of Hei story is similar to another Chinese feature animation, that began its life on Youku-Tudou. A Chinese feature animation that began its life as a short film and took a ten year journey to the big screen – when Chinese feature animation were much less commonly seen than today.

Another animated film that is often compared to Studio Ghibli: Big Fish and Begonia.

Big Fish and Begonia poster

Here in the West we should not view all Chinese indie films as copies, or finding their animation inspirations, from the works Miyazaki Hayao.

As there has been many in China that have found their own distinctive voice, two in particular that gained lauded attention from critics and audiences.

NOTE. Big Fish and Begonia was finished with large capital from Enlight Media and animation service work was done by the legendary Studio Mir in South Korea, between their work on The Legend of Korra and Voltron: Legendary Defender.

The first being Have a Nice Day a 2017 dark comedy feature animation by Liu Jian who did nearly all the animation himself, over three years. The animation style is distinctly non-Ghibli nor child-friendly and it went on to win Best Animation Feature at the 54th Golden Horse Award.

Amazingly, even though it portrays the Chinese underground (not officially recognizing as existing in China at all) it was allowed to screen at Jia Zhangke’s Pingyao International Film Festival in November of 2017.

The other being Dahufa the first film to ever self-classify as PG-13, since the China Box-Office does not have any form of rating system, with all films must being able to screen for the “entire family”. Basically, allowing for an ad hoc censorship shift throughout the year, or film-by-film basis.

Dahufa was released not only to controversy but to praise and was called the Chinese animated film to be watched. Not just for its animation style that harkens back to the most distinctive of all Donghua styles, Inkwash Animation (see below), but because of its subject matter.

Dahufa promo art

Chinese indie animators are finding their voices, not just animation-wise but story-wise as well, and soon one day we shall see an industry that will no longer be dubbed that of “Chinese Anime” but that of Sinomation!

Feeling of Mountains and Water (1988)
Shanghai Animation Studio (Inkwash Animation style)

Stay Tuned China Watchers!

If you liked what you read please — Follow & Share.

If you want to continue to see us grow – Please support us on Patreon.

For Speaking Engagements or Consulting Please Contact Directly.

Follow us on LinkedInTwitterYouTubeInstagram and Castbox.fm.

Don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter The Huaxia Report!

About the Author

Born and raised in the Missouri-Ozarks Ryan studied Film Production, and East Asian Culture, at the University of Kansas where he was a UGRA recipient that led him on a seven-year long, Journey From the West, to China. Where he worked with Warner Brothers, the China Film Group Corp. and the National Bureau of Statistics of China. Before returning to the States, where he specializes in Chinese Anime & Comics, China’s Box-Office, and Chinese entertainment-tech industries. He has a dog in China, Abigail, and a dog in the Arkansas-Ozarks, King Blue, who help ease his anxiety of suffering from the “Two-Dimensional Complex” that is trying to understand the Culture Industry landscapes of the Middle Kingdom.