Animation, stop motion, porcelain dolls, porcelain world, ancient ghost story, thriller. An animated film with these keywords has beautifully yet fittingly presented the story “Killing a Sea Serpent” (海公子, Mr. Hai) from the book Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (《聊斋志异》).Eerie, dark, and otherworldly, the porcelain characters on the porcelain island act out the classic tale of a love encounter in a porcelain forest, all made by a graduate from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, Geng Xue.
The female lead’s reflection in a bowl of water
In the story, the main character Chang travels to a faraway island on which grows a flower that blossoms even in winter. He meets a beautiful woman, yet their time together was cut short with the arrival of Mr. Sea, a serpent. Chang’s life is thrown into danger, and it would seem that the woman may also be a serpent spirit (a yaoguai, or yōkai)…
Through meticulously-planned lighting and camera angles, the texture, shine, and feel of porcelain are maximized to realize a truly “oriental” animated thriller. Geng told a reporter from The Paper, that every shot took an immense amount of time and energy to create that creepy feel, and that often only about ten seconds of materials could be used out of more than ten hours of shooting in a day. She made several sets of porcelain dolls, including small (10cm) and large versions of Chang, and two for the mysterious female (one that sleeps, and the other one breaks and disappears). The dolls were made into “puppets” so that their joints could move to create movements, the process of which was one of the main challenges, Geng said. The clever usage of water not only made the porcelain hauntingly beautiful, but the imageries deeply moving.
Right now, only the preview of Mr. Sea is available for viewing online (watch below). But with only a preview, the film has garnered immense interest, and its magnificent style has made many wonder: will this be a new beginning for Chinese animation?