New Gods: Yang Jian wants to be an epic animated Chinese martial art fantasy film. It really does. Unfortunately, all it has going for it are some pretty visuals and nicely choreographed fight scenes in the first half of the film. It never rises above mediocrity due to a long-winded, confusing, and yet predictable story combined with a lack of any meaningful character development for its main characters and a bizarre lack of female characters period.
New Gods: Yang Jian ~ Details
New Gods: Yang Jian is an animated Chinese martial arts fantasy film, and is in fact the second film in the New Gods series. Light Chaser Animation is the animation studio behind this film, as they were with its predecessor New Gods: Nezha Reborn. Zhao Ji returns to direct this film, with Lu Xi returning to produce and Mu Chuan returning to write the screenplay. GKIDS is the company licensing this animated film for its NA release.
New Gods: Yang Jian was released in Chinese theaters back on August 19, 2022. GKIDS released this animated film in both the original Mandarin audio with English sub and English dub in NA theaters on January 20, 2023. You can purchase tickets for it on the animated film’s official website at GKIDS. If you wish, you can also watch its predecessor New Gods: Nezha Reborn on Netflix.
Warning: spoilers for New Gods: Yang Jian are below. If for some reason you want to watch this animated film for yourself, then stop here and come back once you’ve slogged your way through this mediocrity of a Chinese fantasy.
New Gods: Yang Jian ~ Plot Summary
New Gods: Yang Jian starts us off by introducing us to a war between Heaven and Earth that resulted in peace and every god getting a cave to live in. This has basically no bearing on the plot of the film, so you can just ignore it.
The film then introduces us to Yang Jian (who also sometimes gets called Erlang Mu as a play on his surname being Mu and him being the second son of his family) and his crew of 2 people and their dog (who can transform into a girl) as they precariously travel to the next port on a flying ship with their last sack of fuel (called “cosmic gas”). Only Yang Jian actually matters. You can tell because he’s the only named character among his crew. Anyways, as soon as they reach port, Yang sets out to do his job as a bounty hunter…all by himself. Apparently, the other members of his crew don’t accompany him, possibly because that means they’d need to have names. Anyways, Yang catches his bounty and demonstrates that he’s very strong and skilled, yet merciful.
Here Comes the Only Named Female Character in the Whole 2-Hour Film
So when a mysterious woman named Wanluo hires him to find a man named Chenxiang to retrieve the “Lamp of Universal Contentment” he stole from her, Yang Jian takes the job. Especially after she offers a bag of shiny rocks as advance payment. After an aside to the aforementioned Chenxiang robbing a port town with some pirates (showing how ruthless and brutal he is), Yang tracks him down…and then lets him escape for no discernable reason we can tell. He does find out that Chenxiang is a fellow pupil of his master, so he pays the old man a visit. Chenxiang turns out to be a renegade student who murdered his teacher, kind of as we expected from his piratical behavior. Maybe now, Yang will take the guy a bit more seriously?
But nope, Yang Jiang lets him go again the next time he sees him and earns the wrath of the local authorities in the process. They toss him into prison for that, but his crew (still unnamed) stages a jailbreak to release him. His first bounty also joins up with them and gets Yang a ride to the mortal realm to find Chenxiang yet again. He finds Chenxiang with Wanluo, who reveals herself as “Goddess Wu” and gives exposition. A lot of exposition.
The Writers Have Never Heard of “Show, Don’t Tell”
To summarize: 13 years ago, Yang’s master tricked him into sealing his younger sister into a mountain along with a bunch of phoenixes. His master has been using the phoenixes to power his cave home at the cost of the phoenixes’ imprisonment doing some unspecified bad things to the mortal realm. Wanluo/Goddess Wu tells Yang Jian that he must undo his seal and free his sister and the phoenixes. They have a violent disagreement for a bit, but Yang then heads to the mountain anyways. Oh, and Chenxiang is his nephew, being the son of his younger sister. He’s critical to the whole mountain-breaking deal, so Yang takes him along.
When they eventually get there after some unnecessary travel montage, they (including a bound Wanluo) all get caught in some kind of pocket dimension scroll trap. Yang Jian’s master shows up, deciding to murder them all to keep getting free power for his home from the phoenixes. Yang breaks out of the trap, summons his giant avatar form, and kills his master along with his henchmen. Chenxiang then uses the “Lamp of Universal Contentment” to break his mother out of the mountain. His mother turns out to be a ghost though and flies off with the phoenixes to…do something. It’s not entirely clear what.
After this, there’s an epilogue sequence implying that a drunk former general guy named Shen Gongbao who died earlier in the film will somehow appear in a future film. That’s also not clear. I guess we’ll just find out if Light Chaser Animation does a sequel to New Gods: Yang Jian.
New Gods: Yang Jian ~ The Good
There’s not much that’s good about New Gods: Yang Jian. The best I can say is that the film has some pretty animation and visuals, like the scene above. Even then, the animation occasionally stumbles. For instance, there’s a scene where one of Yang’s crew walks like a robot for a bit before his walking becomes more natural as the camera zooms in.
Wanluo also sings a nice-sounding song in the middle of New Gods: Yang Jian. There are also some impressive visuals to go along with it, so that’s nice.
The initial fight scenes for the first two-thirds of the film are nicely choreographed too. Unfortunately, that doesn’t last. The final fight scene, in particular, really sucks. It just consists of Yang’s avatar pulling a giant axe from the ground as his master and his henchmen are stabbing him with a giant sword, and then Yang’s avatar poofing them all away in a single strike with said axe. After the nice acrobatics and choreography of the previous fights, the final fight is a huge letdown. You get the feeling that Light Chaser Animation ran out of time and/or funding for New Gods: Yang Jian at the end there.
New Gods: Yang Jian ~ The Bad
Now here comes the bad parts of New Gods: Yang Jian. First off: the story is horrible. It’s extremely long-winded due to the film’s 2 hours and 7 minutes long runtime. However, at the same time, it’s simultaneously confusing and predictable all at once. The film regularly grinds the plot to a halt to deliver exposition. Sometimes the exposition is plot-relevant, but most of the time it’s not. And yet at the same time, you can already guess how the film is going to end when the first bit of exposition about Yang’s backstory happens about a third of the way into the film. Hint: Yang is supposed to free his sister from a mountain. That’s it. There are no plot twists here. That’s literally what happens. The end.
The other bad part about New Gods: Yang Jian are the characters. Or rather, the lack of them. Yang Jian and Chenxiang are basically the only characters who matter in the film. Everyone else is just a side character in their story. Even then though, our 2 main characters don’t even get any kind of character development. All their characterization is revealed through exposition. They don’t actually develop their personalities over the course of the film.
Speaking of characters, very few of the characters in New Gods: Yang Jian actually have names. That’s how unimportant they are. Even Yang’s crew, who theoretically should be important to Yang himself, don’t get named at all. To top it all off, there’s a bizarre lack of female characters throughout the film. There are literally only 2 female characters, with only 1 of them (Wanluo) getting a name. The other (Yang’s dog) just gets called “dog”. We see women in the background of the film, but they’re more there as walking scenery than anything remotely like side characters. I find that to be weirdly misogynistic, but that’s just me.
To top it all off: the English subtitles are a bit wonky. Most of the text is grammatically correct, but awkwardly phrased. However, there is a notable scene at the end where Chenxiang says “It’s seals the peak you split.”. You get what he’s trying to say, but still. The lack of proper English here is just the hilariously bad topping on top of this problem sundae that is New Gods: Yang Jian. I would not recommend this film to anyone.