Saturday, June 23, 2018

Tieshan gongzhu / Princess Iron Fan (restored by CNC-AFF)

Tieshan gongzhu / Princess Iron Fan. The Princess with her iron fan and the Monkey King in front of the palace of the Bull King.

铁扇公主 / 鐵扇公主 / La Princesse à l'éventail de fer / La principessa dal ventaglio di ferro / Die Prinzessin mit dem Eisenfächer
    Directors: Wan Laiming, Wan Guchan
    Country: Cina. Year: 1941
    Sog.: da un episodio del romanzo Il viaggio in Occidente (Xi You Ji) di Wu Cheng’en. Scen.: Wang Qianbai. F.: Liu Qingxing, Chen Zhenye. M.: Wang Jinyi. Mus.: Lu Zhongren. Prod.: Zhang Shankun per United China (Xinhua-Lianhe). DCP. D.: 71’. Bn.
    Restored by CNC – Archives françaises du film in the occasion of JICA-Diffusion (Annecy Film Festival) from a 35 mm dupe negative belonging to Tong Yuejuan.
    Copy from Centre de Documentation sur le Cinéma Chinois (Paris)
    Chinese version with French subtitles (from the print of which the DCP has been created) and e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra.
    Introduced by Marie Claire Kuo and Tony Rayns.
    DCP viewed at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato (The Rebirth of Chinese Cinema (1941-1951)), 23 June 2018

Marie Claire Kuo and Kuo Kwan Leung (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "After the huge success of Princess Snow-White in Shanghai in early 1938, the Wan twins found a producer for Tieshan Gongzhu, which turned out to be the first full-length animation film in China, and in Asia."

"Tieshan Gongzhu was completed after sixteen months of hard work, under very difficult technical and financial conditions. Although haunted by war, the talented Wan twins kept their spirits and amazing capacity of invention. If the modeling of some characters was still influenced by the Fleischer Brothers, others had an authentic Asian look. Making a colour film was out of the question but to improve the shading of black and white photography, all of the original drawings were coloured. As the animators lacked experience and no rotoscope was available, some scenes were first filmed with actors. Then frames from the film were pinned on the walls as models. When the Japanese occupied all of Shanghai, in December 1941, the popular patriotic song at the end of the film had to be shortened. The film was a huge success. It was even screened in Japan for a short time and when the young Tezuka Osamu saw it, he was so impressed that he decided to become an animator himself…" (Marie Claire Kuo and Kuo Kwan Leung)

Tony Rayns: "The Wan brothers, China’s animation pioneers, had been active in the Shanghai film industry in the 1930s, making shorts, animated inserts for live-action features and even an animated episode for a portmanteau film, and they had joined the exodus from Shanghai when the Chinese part of the city fell to the Japanese in 1937. In Wuhan and other bases up the Yangtze River they made short animations for the anti-Japanese war effort. But in 1939, knowing that the resistance was still working in the city’s international concessions (so-called ‘Orphan Island Shanghai’), they returned to Shanghai to make Tieshan Gongzhu."

"They chose a comic episode from the Ming Dynasty novel Journey to the West (Xi You Ji, by Wu Cheng’en) for their storyline: the monk Tripitaka (Xuanzang) and his companions Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy must get past Fire Mountain on their way to India to gather Buddhist sutras, and they need a magical iron fan to subdue the flames. Their battle against the demons of Fire Mountain is, of course, a morale-boosting cypher for the anti-Japanese resistance. As the archivist-historian Jay Leyda noted, the film is most interesting when it leaves Disney influences behind and tries for a purely Chinese tone and style." Tony Rayns

AA: A fantastic mythical animated journey full of transformations and metamorphoses.

The story of an eternal quest towards the west. The quest is spiritual, the story is picaresque. Both earthy and heavenly. This passage takes place in the mountains. The Flaming Mountain can only be passed with the help of an iron fan that belongs to a princess. It takes several disguises and camouflages to achieve that. We visit the Emerald Cloud Cove and the Palm Leaf Cove. The quicksilver nature of the Monkey King is especially suitable for animation. A visionary dimension is achieved in this journey between Heaven and Earth.

The final battle takes place against the Bull King. Like in Louis Feuillade serials, villains and heroes switch disguises and pose as each other convincingly.

The comedy is not subtle, the voice performances are overdone, and there are all kinds of clumsy aspects in the animation. But there is a genuine, irresistible drive in this adventure.

Princess Iron Fan has been compared with Walt Disney and other masters of American animation. With justification, but I enjoyed the traditionally Asian aspects of the story which have been excitingly animated.

From a battered French-subtitled print an enjoyable restoration has been created. It betrays its less than ideal origins but remains an engrossing experience.


Princess Iron Fan (simplified Chinese: 铁扇公主; traditional Chinese: 鐵扇公主; pinyin: Tiě shàn gōngzhǔ), also known as Demonic Lady (simplified Chinese: 罗刹女; traditional Chinese: 羅剎女; pinyin: Luó shā nǚ), is a fictional character from the novel Journey to the West. She is the wife of the Bull King and mother of Red Boy. She is a beautiful female demon living in a cave awaiting her husband's return, but also angry at him for his affair with a foxy vixen woman, Princess Jade Face. She refused to lend the Monkey King (Sun Wukong) her fan to subdue the flaming mountains.
The pilgrims encounter an extremely hostile range of volcanic mountains and can only pass if the volcanoes become inactive. Her fan, made from banana leaves, is extremely large and has magical properties, as it can create giant whirlwinds. Sun Wukong wants to borrow her fan, but she turns him down as the monkey has been on bad terms with her husband before. Sun Wukong, however, is crafty and has ever better tactics for subduing his enemies. He transforms into a fly and flies into her mouth, down her throat, and into her belly. Once inside, the monkey kicks and punches Princess Iron Fan's guts until she is in so much pain that she gives him a fake fan which intensifies the flames instead of putting them out. Having barely escaped from the fire, Sun Wukong returns, pretending to be her husband through shape shifting and obtains the fan. Soon afterwards, the real husband comes home, angry at what has happened, he pretends to be the Pig (Zhu Bajie) also through shape shifting and offers to carry the big fan. Lost in the moment of victory, Sun Wukong carelessly believes the Bull King and hands over the fan. Later, the Jade Emperor sends his heavenly troops to help Sun Wukong defeat Bull Demon King and Princess Iron Fan for good, and she is forced to give them the real fan.

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