A ridiculously fulfilling underdog sporting activities tale established in the hugely specialized arena of Chinese lion dancing, “I Am What I Am” capabilities a plot acquainted plenty of that it could have been produced by laptop, peppered with details distinctive plenty of that the experience continuously manages to surprise. The outcome is an influenced blend of engineering and ingenuity, distinguished by some of the most human character animation this aspect of the uncanny valley — not real looking, brain you, but relatable, and a welcome departure from the cutesy cartoony-ness of Pixar and its American ilk, generated at a mere portion of the price range.
Earth premiering as a operate in progress at Los Angeles’ Animation Is Film Festival, this “Karate Kid”-like crowd-pleaser from “Kung Food” creator Haipeng Sunlight signifies another breakthrough for China’s rapidly-escalating animation scene. Packed with culturally particular humor, the toon is clearly meant to serve neighborhood audiences (on the Douban and Maoyan platforms, it proved to be 2021’s greatest-rated domestic release just after opening in China on Dec. 8), although foreigners should really also recognize this sort of a relatable glimpse behind the mask of the colorful tailor made, in which teams of properly trained dancers steer the two-man or woman costume throughout tall pedestals and other tough road blocks.
A sheepish, scrawny boy with a girl’s identify, teased by other people for seeking like a “sick cat,” Juan lives alone in a rural town in Guangdong province though his mothers and fathers perform in the large metropolis. His self-esteem is nearly nonexistent until eventually just one day he witnesses a thriller contestant outmaneuver the local bullies in a lion dance competitiveness — a thrilling “capture the flag”-style video game set on an elaborate bamboo scaffolding, which the virtual digital camera observes with all the dynamism of a wuxia movie. The winner turns out to be a woman his age, also named Juan, who items the child her lion mask and provides him the determination he desires to give the sport a attempt.
The next 50 percent-hour will seem to be relatively acquainted, as Juan (the boy) enlists fellow-reject pals Cat and Doggy to kind a workforce, then seeks out former champion Huang Feihong, now a salted-fish vendor, to mentor them to victory. The film stacks a single montage following a further, alternating amongst apparent and unpredicted jokes along the way, to compress the sort of physical instruction that would typically take a ten years or much more. After Juan wins an early local competition, the plot can take an unexpected transform, as Juan does the honorable issue in purchase to assist his mom and dad, bowing out of the next stage and as an alternative relocating to Shanghai to get paid revenue for the loved ones.
In times like this, the movie walks the line of feel-fantastic propaganda, reinforcing how honorable and obedient citizens are envisioned to behave, instead of celebrating the variety of particular glory to which American audiences are additional accustomed (while rest confident that U.S. toons sense like a kind of behavioral brainwashing to foreign auds). Screenwriter Zelin Li gives these gangly young ones unforgettable personalities, which establish all the a lot more energetic via the endearingly exaggerated way they’ve been rendered — to say absolutely nothing of the classy, accelerated lion dance moves.
In China, the movie drew criticism for its character models, which contain smaller, squinted eyes (reportedly finished to differentiate the type from Japanese animation) and unflattering proportions (one particular of Juan’s pals is a Body fat Albert-model stereotype). But the real truth is, the faces here are so expressive, they raise the practical experience previously mentioned its fairly formulaic plot, reminding that animation is a little bit like lion dancing, as artists cover at the rear of elaborate avatars and consider to convey conduct and thoughts the normal public can identify. The backgrounds are primarily spectacular, like a golden-hued forest with its crepe-paper canopy of saffron crimson leaves, demonstrating just how far laptop animation has appear.
Even though “I Am What I Am” evidently speaks to various national-id problems, the emotions represented are universal. There is anything to be stated for how it celebrates people from the base of culture, like doing the job-course Juan. It’s even now very uncommon to face a Chinese movie that facilities common people today, as opposed to legendary and magical heroes (like “Ne Zha”), but straightforward to understand why that would resonate with audiences.
Of system, the motion picture would not be nearly as enjoyable if Juan did not have a last-moment alter of coronary heart, displaying up to compete in the major Shanghai opposition. Kudos to the workforce for conceiving a shocking way for that to enjoy out, wherever successful isn’t approximately as essential as Juan proving his very own price to himself.