This year’s edition of the renowned Fantoche Festival for Animated Films showed two Chinese feature films: “On Happiness Road” by the Taiwanese director Hsin-Yin Sung and “Big Fish & Begonia” by the directors Xuan Liang and Chun Zhang.
“On Happiness Road” tells a modern story of the young Taiwanese woman called Chi, who, in her early twenties, struggled with the pressure of being a single child and the feeling of being obliged to cater to the needs of her parents. She took a chance and emigrated to the USA, where her cousin arranged a job for her. She built a life, worked an office job and married her American husband, but somehow still felt unhappy and unaccomplished. On the occasion of her grandmother’s funeral, she returns to her hometown in Taiwan. The return to the places of her childhood offers her the opportunity to once again reflect on her life, on what happiness is, and what home is. Suddenly the once hated happiness road, on which she grew up, does not feel that horrid anymore.
The film is mostly hand-drawn and links historical events of Taiwan with the individual life story of Chi, and mixes it with dream sequences and narrative strands, that show the world like Chi used to see when she was a child.
“Big Fish & Begonia”, on the other hand, is based on different ancient Chinese fables and sagas and tells the fantastic story of a girl named Chun. She lives in the mystical realm of a people who lives under the ocean – the place where souls go when they depart from the human world. In a coming-of-age ritual Chun is allowed to go to the human world in the form of a dolphin. Unfortunately she gets captured in a fishing net, but a boy saves her life at the cost of his own life. The girl can not live with herself anymore after this accident – especially since she has fallen in love with the boy – and decides to sacrifice half of her lifetime in return for the boy’s soul. The soul keeper hands her his soul in the form of a small fish, which needs to grow before it can return to his own kind. From that moment on, Chun is responsible for the fish and the soul that lives within it, but the merging of the two worlds has unforeseen consequences that threaten the existence of Chun’s world. During her struggles to protect the soul, a young god, who has fallen in love with her, helps her.
“Big Fish & Begonia” is mostly hand-drawn as well and is one of the most successful Chinese animation films. The overwhelming story is partially set in the tulou – the traditional circular houses of the Hakka in Southern China. The attention to detail and the various fantastic characters make up the charm of this story of a love triangle of gods.
Both feature films show the immense talent of Chinese animators and represent the broad variety of styles and storytelling in the Chinese animation scene.
Just two years ago, three Chinese short films won prices at the Fantoche Festival for Animated Films, namely: Jie Shen with “Monkey” in the category “High Risk”, Zhong Su with “Forever” in the category “New Talent”, and Yi Zhao with “Löss” in the category “Special Mention International”.
Watch the experimental “Monkey” here:
The trailer to Yi Zhao’s “Löss” is available here: