Chinese animated legend Nezha makes box office history, roaring past The Lion King

A Chinese-made animated movie about a legendary antiauthoritarian figure raked in more than 210 million yuan (US$30 million) at domestic cinemas on Sunday, about 10 times the takings of Disney’s remake of The Lion King.

Nezha has earned more than 2 billion yuan since it opened in cinemas across China on July 26, setting an earnings record for a Chinese animated movie.

The movie has also earned rave reviews and is rated 8.6 out of 10 on Douban, a Chinese forum for culture and movies.

Nezha is loosely based on the Chinese novel The Investiture of the Gods, set in the Shang dynasty (1600BC to 1050BC). Ne Zha is the third son of a garrison commander and eventually commits suicide to save his people from the Dragon King’s rage.

As he dies, he tells his parents that he will “return his bones to his father and flesh to his mother”, so that he will owe them nothing. He is later reborn as a god.

In the past, the character was known as a free spirit and a symbol of opposition to patriarchy and autocracy.

Monkey King, move over: Nezha, teen hero of Chinese mythology, gets a Gen Z spin in return to the big screen

The legend has been the inspiration for a number of Chinese productions, including China’s first widescreen colour animation, the 1979 cartoon Prince Nezha’s Triumph Against Dragon King. Produced by the Shanghai Animation Film Studio, the movie was the first Chinese animated film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2003, China Central Television also broadcast an animated series, The Legend of Nezha.

This time the plot has been changed to transform Ne Zha into a hated and feared reincarnation of a devil. But Ne Zha believes his fate is not predetermined and he can choose to be a demon or a god.

“My fate is not fixed and depends on myself,” he says in the movie.

The theme resonated with the young cinema-goers. Wang Xia, a Beijing resident and animation fan, told the South China Morning Post that she liked the film for its focus on free will.

“It’s a wonderful adaptation of the original story,” she said. “Besides, the movie has great special effects and is beautifully drawn.”

Many online commenters said the movie’s success was a milestone for the country’s animation industry and domestic production companies should make more films based on Chinese legends.

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