Light Chaser Animation has easily become one of my favorite animation studios. The Chinese animation studio has created a series of films retelling Chinese mythology in a gorgeous punk fashion. With White Snake, Green Snake, and most recently New Gods: Nezha Reborn setting the stage, the studio has outdone itself with their latest installment New Gods: Yang Jian. Packed with action, beauty, and a fantastic score, the film is the perfect way to start 2023’s animation.
Directed by Ji Zhao and written by Mu Chuan, New Gods: Yang Jian reimagines Chinese mythology starting thirteen years after Yang Jian (known to some as Erlang Shen) imprisoned his sister beneath a mountain. Once a powerful god, Yang Jian now scrapes by as a penniless bounty hunter with only his crew, his ship, and the story of how he betrayed his family to uphold the law, the only things to his name. But when a mysterious woman hires him for a new job, Yang Jian soon finds himself chasing down Chanxiang, a boy that seems as familiar as he is dangerous. He must stop Chenxiang as the boy tries to put the magical lotus lantern back together and free his mother, even if it will bring catastrophe. As Yang Jian confronts the actions of his past, he must face a host of dangerous vigilantes seeking the same treasure with the power to alter the balance of their worlds.
Combining ancient lore with dazzling animation, New Gods: Yang Jian is an action epic featuring one of China’s legendary mythic figures. It embraces multiple genres. At times it’s a Western, at others it’s a space pirate adventure, and at others still it’s a family drama. And all of it is wrapped in fantasy elements that keep the story driving forward. From the ships to the weapons and settings, everything feels expansive and spectacular. But even though the film is visually stunning, it’s the film’s use of music that takes it to another level.
Guo Haowei has crafted a blend of jazz, blues, and traditional Chinese strings, the film’s score can pull the audience into any emotion that Yang Jian is feeling at any particular moment in the narrative. We can feel his grief, his anger, and the sense of betrayal. He’s lost everything and has to carry the guilt of the story associated with his past, whether it’s true or not. Yang Jian isn’t alone by any means, but his loneliness is palpable as the specter of his sister hangs over his interactions with others.
Music isn’t just used for atmosphere either; it’s also used as part of the action. While I’m a sucker for fighting with musical notes, this film does it better than I’ve seen in a long time. Particularly when Yang Jian’s bluesy harmonica hits the sound of traditional Chinese string sounds from a lute that crash into each other, accentuating the action and the atmosphere at the same time. It’s gorgeous to hear and even more so to see. Add in the beauty that is Wanlou’s beautiful Dunhuang dance and the way it tells its own story, and it’s hard not to be in awe at the score.
At just over 120 minutes, New Gods: Yang Jian delivers a detailed story of generational trauma, only it’s through the eyes of gods and demigods. As we watch the cyclical heartache reveal itself, it’s hard not to get emotional, especially after being given so much time to fall for Yang Jian and feel for Chenxiang. While I’m not familiar with this particular Chinese myth, I never felt lost. Instead, I felt welcomed into the epic and blown away by the beauty and detail of the Immortal Realm, the Mortal Realm, and the animative skill behind bringing everything to life.
Each background is layered with symbols, animals, gods, and just details that let the audience view know how vast Chinese mythology is and what it has to offer. Every scene is packed with beauty and detail, and that’s no more true than in the final act when the animation style shifts. Rendering traditional Chinese ink art in 3D isn’t something I knew was possible, nor was it something I expected. And yet, Light Chaser blew me away.
I have endless praise for New Gods: Yang Jian, a film with endearing characters that extend beyond the one in the title and beauty beyond anything I could have imagined. I will watch every single New Gods film that Light Chaser, and I hope that the animation studio can retell any mythological story that is in the Chinese pantheon. Visually stunning, New Gods: Yang Jian effortlessly captures myth, beauty, and adventure. I can’t wait to see what Light Chaser has to offer next.
New Gods: Yang Jian
- Rating - 9/109/10
Visually stunning, New Gods: Yang Jian effortlessly captures myth, beauty, and adventure. I can’t wait to see what Light Chaser has to offer next.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime.