Considering the poor quality of domestic films, China's film industry falls woefully short of the Hollywood blockbusters that regularly win the lion's share of the country's box office. And yet, there's a film being shown in Chinese theaters at this moment that is completely unlike any Chinese film you've ever seen in your life.
We here at the Beijinger haven't yet seen the animated film Dahufa (大护法), but we're willing to recommend it as a unique Chinese film, the likes of which we'll never see again.
How can we be so sure? This is the plot synopsis of Dahufa from Baidu, and it does not disappoint in the least:
"Peanuttown" is a small backwater town on the fringes of the Kingdom of Yiwei, an ignored place on its frontier. But despite its beauty, a hidden danger lurks as evident by the enormous black peanut floating in the sky above the village. In searching for his long-lost prince, Dahufa of the Yiwei Kingdom has come to this strange town. The residents that live here look exactly like peanuts; their faces each have two eyes and a mouth, but these are "fake eyes and mouths" that are stuck onto their faces. As a result, they are sluggish and stupid. They don't know where they're from, but instead live in a mechanical and submissive way. These residents are against all foreign things, and are numb and ignorant. But whenever these residents grow a strange mushroom from their bodies, they are executed by the town's guards. In trying to escape the murderous clutches of the guards, Dahufa encounters the prince as well as gets drawn into an epic story about desire.
Just in case your eyebrows aren't planted above your forehead, let's reiterate: Dahufa is a Chinese film. Made in China, right here in Beijing and Tianjin. For a Chinese audience. That was approved by Chinese censors. And, that's the story they're using.
But it's not just the choice of subject matter that is setting this film apart from its peers. Dahufa goes to great length to characterize the world of Peanuttown as a dystopia, and they do it through brutal violence.
The people of Peanuttown are routinely subjected to violence from its authoritative rulers. As seen in the film's trailer, blood is spilled, heads are decapitated, and firing squads execute rows upon rows of Peanuttownresidents. In fact, the film is so violent that it has self-imposed a "PG-13" rating to prevent young children from watching it.
Violence on its own is not something to be praised, but where Dahufa really shines is using violence and horror to paint an oppressive mood. The people of Peanuttown are depicted as haunting figures with detachable eyes and mouths; the lack of empathy afforded to these characters make their gory on-screen deaths seem all the more shocking.
Dahufa appears to take its inspiration from Hayao Miyazaki's 1997 opus Princess Mononoke, especially when considering its horror and violence. But as with many Chinese films, we detect from the trailer a strain of existentialism that appears left over from French New Wave cinema.
Dahufa currently enjoys an 8.1 rating on Douban from almost 50,000 reviews. Its top-rated comment reads in part, "How did this film ever get approved? Is SARFT blind?" Meanwhile, NetEase called Dahufa a "trailblazer" for adult animated films in China while another internet critic wryly called it a piece of social art crossed between "what you understand" and "what you don't need to understand."
We wish we'd be able to give you our own opinion on the film, but there's one last thing you should know about Dahufa: it is being massacred at the Chinese box office.
After just four days of release, Dahufa has only managed to earn 31.8 million yuan whereas another bland retelling of the Monkey King has managed to earn 10 times that amount in the same time. If it hasn't already, Dahufa will quickly disappear from Chinese theaters, so if you want to see a unique Chinese film, give Dahufa a chance.
And if you want one more reason to watch this film, then you should know that the people who made this movie are complete badasses.
Instead of the usual tagline, the message in small print on the film's poster reads: "Thanks so much to all the people who made things difficult for us." If this film was this difficult to make, it really deserves an audience.
Check out the film's trailer below (Cantonese version here):
And here's a weird music video for an equally weird movie:
More stories from this author here.
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