Chinese landscape painting animation of the 1960s
April 6, 2013 1:39 AM   Subscribe

During the 1960s, the Shanghai Animation Studio (perhaps most famous for their classic interpretation of the Monkey King story, 大闹天宫 "Uproar in Heaven", also called "Havoc in Heaven") produced some beautiful, lyrical short films in a traditional Chinese ink painting style. Mostly wordless and featuring a mix of Western and traditional Chinese music, many of the films are available on YouTube:

  • 山水情 "Landscape Feelings": A scholar and student travel through mountains and streams.
  • 牧笛 "The Cowherd's Flute": A young herding boy tries to reunite with his ox.
  • 鹿铃 "Deer Bell": A young deer leaves the wild and forms a friendship with a young girl.
  • 鹬蚌相争 "Snipe and Clam Contend": From the Chinese idiom "when the snipe and clam contend, the fisher profits".
  • 小蝌蚪找妈妈 "Little Tadpoles Search for Mama": Mandarin narration, but the story is pretty clear anyway and it's available with English subtitles.
The Shanghai Animation Studio produced other works during the same period, such as小溪流 "The Little Stream", 怕羞的黄莺 "The Fearful Oriole" (with an almost Disney-esque animation style), 金色的海螺 "The Golden Seashell" (animated like Chinese paper cutting) and 等明天 "Wait for Tomorrow" (also in a paper cutting style). These rely more on Mandarin for narration and dialogue, however, and are not so much in the landscape style. The Shanghai Animation Studio also produced films before this period, and has continued up to the present.
posted by jiawen (11 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Forgot to add a link to Chinese landscape painting.
posted by jiawen at 1:46 AM on April 6, 2013

So the music in at the start of Havoc in Heaven seems to be the same theme as they use in the old Shaw Brothers retelling of the story.

Pigsy Sings!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:04 AM on April 6, 2013

Love the melodies in "Landscape Feelings." Hints of blues and bluegrass, and very evocative.

There are things I have to do now, but will be back to see the rest of these.
posted by tommyD at 7:13 AM on April 6, 2013

Beautiful, thank you.
posted by Think_Long at 7:19 AM on April 6, 2013

When I was eight the National Peking Opera Company flew over from China, and my parents took me to Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. to watch them perform Monkey King Fights 18 Lo Hans. I loved it. It was better than any circus. I scored one of those fancy oversized glossy photo-filled deluxe programs, and spent months opening it up and daydreaming, trying to draw the characters, imagining how cool it would to be Monkey King for Halloween, which my mom nixed with one question: "who's going to do your makeup?"

That Christmas I was delighted to receive the paperback book version of Shanghai Animation Studio's Havoc in Heaven. Decades later I learned that every page was a still from an animated film, but at the time I was simply transported by the art and color, the amazing fluidity in every depiction of motion. And of course, the story: you can't go wrong with Sūn Wùkōng, he's been enthralling kids and adults for centuries, and I too was taken with his exploits.

A few years later my parents gave me a Canadian version of the Sūn Wùkōng story called Reid Fleming: World's Toughest Milkman, which firmly seated in me the urge to buck authority at every turn. The lessons of Havoc in Heaven are akin to those of The Emperor's New Clothes, where the lofty are proven to be small and petty and easily deflated, particularly if you are especially cantankerous or clever, or happen to be born from an ancient rock blessed by heaven and earth.

Eventually I watched the Havoc in Heaven film while I was living in Tokyo. I happened to see the cover in a stack of videos that had yet to be shelved at my local store. It didn't matter that the Japanese subtitles were a bit past my reading level, because I had learned the story from endlessly reading the book as a kid.

I gave my Havoc in Heaven paperback to my nephews years ago. It's a thrill to see them read it, like I did, with their little fingers tracing outlines around giant peaches, angry generals, and the Monkey King's smirk. In a few years I'll give them Reid Fleming, and the circle will be complete.

Thanks for this post, jiawen. I'm looking forward to watching the rest of these.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:23 AM on April 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Uproar in Heaven has a spiritual "sequel," Nezha Conquers the Dragon King.
posted by Nomyte at 11:10 AM on April 6, 2013

These are totally gorgeous. Thanks for finding them.
posted by colfax at 12:40 PM on April 6, 2013

And then, the Monkey King and his two companions traveled further west to train young Jesus in the art of kung-fu.
posted by homunculus at 1:38 PM on April 6, 2013

I'm sorely tempted to translate 哪吒闹海 (the Chinese title of 'Nezha Conquers the Dragon King') as "Nezha and the Commotion in the Ocean." But I will be strong.

Thanks for this post, jiawen. I, too, grew up with the Journey to the West picture books, and only discovered the cartoon version of Monkey and the Ruckus in Heaven after I learned Chinese and moved to China. Awesome stuff.
posted by bokane at 10:59 PM on April 6, 2013

A Taiwanese friend of mine introduced me to 山水情。I'll have to ask her how she found it.
posted by jiawen at 8:15 AM on April 8, 2013

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