Animated Film ‘Chang An’ a Love Letter to Golden Age of Poetry

Ten days after its debut on the silver screen, the animated film “Chang An” made history as a dark horse during China’s bustling summer movie-going season. It has taken in an impressive 817 million yuan ($113 million) at the Chinese mainland box office, igniting feelings of poetic romance in the hearts of moviegoers.

A Poetic Journey

Audiences of all ages filled cinemas, eagerly reciting poetry alongside the protagonists on screen. The film takes viewers down memory lane with renowned poets from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), stirring an enthusiasm for traditional Chinese culture that resonates with anyone passionate about life. Through “Chang An,” the world is introduced to the “Chinese Poetry Universe,” celebrating the fine traditional Chinese culture of Tang poetry.

A Story of Friendship and Poetry

The film portrays the profound friendship between poet Gao Shi and the master of romantic poetry Li Bai, offering a glimpse into the star-studded history of the Tang era. Often seen as a golden age in Chinese history due to its economic prosperity and cultural integration, the Tang Dynasty is brought to life through the film’s depiction of 48 Tang poems. These poems present a panorama of the most excellent poets of that time and their political aspirations and ideals, helping audiences travel from the sandy desert frontier to the mist-filled regions south of the Yangtze River.

Cultural Significance

“Chang An” is a masterpiece showcasing the characteristics of Chinese culture to the world. In China, poets and their poems are regarded as national treasures. These poems describe not only the historical changes of a dynasty but also people’s understanding and perception of the world. “Chang An” is like a moving scroll, allowing audiences around the globe to become immersed in the world of ancient poetry.

The film’s success reflects a rediscovery and recognition of traditional Chinese culture. In an unprecedented way, it has raised audience awareness and enhanced their love and belief in Chinese culture. While older moviegoers may be familiar with the poems depicted in the movie, younger audiences, especially Gen Z, get to enter a new and unique world, re-discovering and appreciating the essence and charm of Chinese culture.

Artistic Expression and Cultural Innovation

The success of “Chang An” lies not only in its artistic expression but also in its creative way of respecting and inheriting traditional culture. With today’s rapid social and scientific development and innovative communication means, it is challenging to keep moving forward while respecting the past. “Chang An” provides a successful example of this, opening a new chapter for Chinese animation.

After learning from animation giants like the US and Japan and absorbing Hollywood’s experience in creating cinematic universes, China’s animation industry is turning to the country’s flourishing culture for inspiration. Previous films by the producer, such as “White Snake” and “New Gods: Yang Jian,” were based on Chinese mythology. Now, with “Chang An,” they are creating a new franchise based on actual history and culture. This “Chinese Cultural Universe” will allow Gen Z to appreciate and empathize with traditional culture more easily, while uplifting Chinese artistic styles and the spirit of pursuing ideals unfazed by adversity.

chang 'an animated movie artwork

Emotional Resonance

Featuring 48 Tang-era poems, “Chang An” tells the story of legendary poet Li Bai, as narrated by his old friend, military commander Gao Shi. Simultaneously, the film portrays the ordeals of Chang’an, the imperial capital of the Tang Dynasty, during the An-Shi Rebellion.

“If most ordinary people dream of being literati, then all literati dream of the Tang Dynasty, and the Tang dream takes place in Chang’an,” wrote one reviewer. “Finally, there is an animated film that takes us back to this independent, romantic, meaningful time.”

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The 20th China International Cartoon and Animation Festival (CICAF)

The film’s evocative nature has even led to a viral Weibo tag: ‘Many people are crying while watching Chang’an’ (#看长安三万里很多人都哭了#), with netizens discussing the film’s most impactful moments. One user wrote, “People don’t understand the complexity of history and the helplessness of individuals in history until they are middle-aged. In [Chang’an], the Tang Dynasty is in decline…The gap between ideals and reality is too great. Li Bai, there are many people in this world who understand you.”

Many audience members see the movie as a “love letter to middle-age,” offering an honest portrayal of the deferred dreams of youth. Science fiction author Hao Jingfang described it as “We are waiting for taxis on darkened streets, waiting for our hopeless ideals to come to pass.” This connection to modern-day audiences has contributed to “Chang An” achieving an 8.2/10 on the review aggregator Douban, reflecting its high performance at the box office.

“Chang An” is the latest release from Light Chaser Animation, a studio known for its impressive output and focus on stories from the Chinese canon. Other successful films from Light Chaser include “New Gods: Nezha” and “New Gods: Yang Jian.” As one Weibo user poignantly noted, “Probably only adults know how difficult this journey of life is. A lifetime of wandering and youthful disappointment is not so smooth. Thank you to ‘Chang An’ for letting me know a different Li Bai and a different Gao Shi.”