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Can the legend of Jiang Ziya propel Chinese animated cinema to new heights?

Is it right to sacrifice the life of one person to save the lives of many? This age-old moral dilemma gets a 3D computer-animated treatment in directors Cheng Teng and Li Wei’s fantasy film Jiang Ziya, or Legend of Deification, which updates an ancient historical figure with Chinese mythology and modern ethical questions over fate.

The long-awaited blockbuster, originally scheduled for release prior to the Spring Festival in January, finally hit the big screen on October 1 for China’s “Golden Week” holiday after months of delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Featuring a fictional version of Jiang Ziya (姜子牙), a military strategist born in the 12th century BCE, the plot is loosely based on the novel The Investiture of the Gods from the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644), in which the historical Jiang appears as the ruler of all gods.

Unlike the snowy-haired, white-bearded portrayals of ancient sages in most movies, this version of Jiang is middle aged. A top commander in the divine Kunlun army, he is ordered to execute the menacing Nine-Tailed Fox Demon, who poses a grave threat to the existence of humankind. But upon discovering that the Fox Demon shares the body of an innocent young girl named Jiu, Jiang decides to disobey Heaven’s edict, and sets the girl free before killing the beast, for which he is deprived of his immortality and banished to the mortal realm.

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Deity Defying (Paywalled) is a story from our issue, “Rural Rising.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.

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Yang Tingting is a Chinese editor at The World of Chinese. Interested in telling Chinese stories, she writes mainly about culture, language, and society.

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