Tang Dynasty Poetry Comes Alive in Animated Film ‘Chang An’
A Chinese animated film, “Chang An,” featuring some of China’s most well-known poets has won praise for drumming up interest in traditional Chinese poetry and has been a surprise hit at the box office.
The film is set in the Tang dynasty, an especially prosperous era of Chinese history from 618 to 907, and depicts some of the era’s most famous poets including Li Bai, Du Fu, and Gao Shi — all household names in contemporary China, with the study of their poems mandatory at school.
The film revolves around the interweaving stories of Gao Shi and Li Bai, depicting their struggles to better themselves and society in the Tang dynasty. Drawing from both myths and history, the almost three-hour-long film features 48 well-known Tang poems.
Chang’an was the capital of the Tang dynasty, one of the world’s largest and richest cities at the time. The movie’s Chinese name, “30,000 Miles from Chang An,” is taken from a poem by Ming Dynasty poet Chen Zilong, in which Chang’an represents the ideals of the Tang poets.
The film has received rave reviews, with an average score of 8.2 out of 10 on review site Douban from more than 170,000 reviews, outperforming 91% of animated films on the site.
Many have identified one scene as especially praiseworthy, in which the entirety of Li Bai’s well-known poem “Bring in the Wine” is recited as he stands beside a roaring Yellow River and then soars into the sky on the back of a crane.
The final scene of the movie features another of Li Bai’s well-known poems, “Leaving Baidi in the Morning,” which was written by the poet to express his joy returning home from exile following the An Lushan rebellion.
“The most fascinating part of the film is realizing that these familiar names were not just great poets but real people with flesh and blood,” Liao Kun, a Guangdong resident who watched the movie Saturday, told Sixth Tone.
Xie Junwei, the film’s co-director, has said the film is aimed at increasing awareness among young Chinese of traditional Chinese culture and history.
“We wanted to tell the stories of these brilliant figures to young people through an animated film so that they can have a deeper understanding and more appreciation for our history and classic works,” Xie told domestic media Beijing Daily.
Produced by Beijing-based Light Chaser Animation, the film has become the studio’s best-selling production ever. However, some viewers have complained about the experience at the movie theater being spoiled as many parents are bringing their children to watch the film.
According to local media reports, children are reciting the poems aloud while watching the film and parents are explaining the film’s plot to their children. Similar complaints about bad movie theater etiquette have proliferated online in recent months as Chinese people are returning to movie theaters following years of pandemic restrictions.
According to ticketing platform Maoyan, ticket sales this year have already exceeded 2022, largely driven by blockbuster new releases such as “The Wandering Earth 2” and “Lost in the Stars.”
“Chang An” is the latest Chinese animated film drawing inspiration from Chinese history and culture to achieve box office success in recent years, including the 2019 film “Ne Zha,” based on the Chinese folk deity Nezha. Earlier this year, a new animated series won praise for its modern takes on traditional Chinese literature.
Editor: Vincent Chow.
(Header image: A promotional image of Chang An. From Douban)