New Gods: Yang Jian

Animated movies get more sophisticated and better looking every year. Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks are among the companies making regular strides in the medium. Some of the best work being done, however, comes from the Chinese studio Light Chaser Animation. Their 2019 production White Snake is one of the most gorgeous films I've ever seen, animated or otherwise. The company continues to push boundaries with New Gods: Yang Jian, an adventure that is packed with dazzling images.

Yang Jian is an impoverished bounty hunter. His luck turns around after being hired by a mysterious woman to find a young man named Chenxiang who is trying to obtain a magical lotus lantern. Doing so will allow him to free his mother, who was buried beneath a mountain, but it could also create a catastrophe. The hitch here is that Chenxiang is Yang Jian's nephew, and it was Yang Jian himself who placed her under that mountain, for reasons I won't disclose. Another complication is that there are other entities trying to get their hands on that same lantern.

New Gods: Yang Jian develops a number of wonderfully imaginative action and chase scenes from that premise. There's a fight with a gargantuan monster who has eyes on his stomach and on the palms of his hands. Another character possesses a magic guitar that shoots out deadly sound waves. The finale is set near a mystical mountain that first makes the landscape shatter like glass, then takes on the appearance of paper, forcing the characters to adapt. Light Chaser packs an incredible amount of detail into these sequences, both in terms of how the environments are rendered and in the way the camera moves to accentuate what's taking place. That, in turn, makes them even more fun.

The plot is sort of a mixed bag. It has meaningful themes about sacrifice, familial bonds, and the good of the masses vs. the good of the individual. It also has a second act that meanders, spending too long explaining the shared history of Yang Jian and Chenxiang when it could have gotten those ideas across more succinctly. A story like this needs to zip, to feel like the pressure on Yang Jian is perpetually mounting. The beginning and the end accomplish this; the center slows down when it should be ramping up. Fortunately, the finale gets back on track in a big way, offering an exciting final battle, as well as an unexpectedly emotional wrap-up.

New Gods: Yang Jian would have been better with a tightening of that middle section. As it stands, though, the beauty of the animation, the appeal of the characters, and the energy of the action carry it through. A sprinkling of humor and the poignancy of the ending are nice touches too. But really, the chance to see the extraordinary work Light Chaser has done is reason enough to check out the film.

out of four

New Gods: Yang Jian is unrated, but contains action/violence. The running time is 2 hours and 7 minutes.