The Legend of Hei
Hei (AKA Luo Xiaohei) is a (stylized) cat-spirit (but capable of taking the form of a more-or-less human boy) whose natural home is destroyed by humans, but he's rescued by another group of spirits led by one named Stormend. But he is abducted from that haven by someone calling himself Infinity. The question is, who are the bad guys here?
I'm going to seem to go off-topic into the real world, but I'll tie this back into the movie under review a little later, so bear with me.
It seems that, in our real world, a certain tech-billionaire is planning to put 20,000-plus, rather large, satellites in orbit around the Earth. This is ostensibly to provide internet for everybody, but, billionaires being billionaires, it isn't purely out of the goodness of his heart. ($500 per ground receiver is one figure I've heard.) These satellites will be orbited in clusters called "constellations". What this means in practice is that there will effectively be roving gangs of spacecraft writing graffiti, in their own reflected sunlight, all over astronomers' celestial images, creating fake "constellations" whose glare may obliterate the REAL constellations. There Goes The (Near-Earth) Neighborhood (and possibly also the profession of Astronomer as well; these might even be a hazard for space-based astronomy and planetary exploration- there's already been one near-collision of one of these things with someone else's satellite, and our guy with the megabucks has only put up a tiny fraction of his intended fleet so far.) Apparently nobody thought to put any restrictions on commercial exploitation (or maybe pollution) of space, so if a person with the resources to do it fouls up things for those who don't have those resources, I guess it's just tough luck. If our view of Nature is ruined, well, we'll have all those nifty satellites to enjoy, right?
Well, to borrow a segue from Arlo Guthrie, I didn't come here to talk about that; I came here to talk about The Legend of Hei. But as with Alice's Restaurant, these seemingly disparate things can be tied together. For both my opening example, and the backstory of Legend of Hei's, deal with the despoiling of the natural world.
In The Legend of Hei, the spirits of Nature have formed two opposing factions in light of humans' widespread destruction of their natural habitats. One faction has simply acquiesced to the humans, knuckled under, and tried to assimilate; members of this faction now pose as shopkeepers and in other low-visibility occupations in the human world. These are the show's "good guys". The other faction is determined to fight the humans and restore the lands to their natural state; these are the show's "bad guys".
Now one might think that it was possible to live in the human world and yet STILL agitate for environmental preservation- except that The Legend of Hei has been approved by the "China Film Administration" (seriously, it's in the credits), and China has had a notoriously dim view of dissidents, so I guess only TOTAL WAR is an option here.
Still, the anti-human, pro-nature faction's arguments might attract some of our sympathy (especially given dubious real-life schemes like the one I opened with, and a much worse one that I'll mention later.) Given this, the storytelling approach selected was to define the villain by the methods each side used. Specifically, Hei has a certain talent he's unaware of, which, to be honest, BOTH sides want to exploit, but the "bad guys" simply use a more brutal approach with him. This defining of the villain by his methods rather than (necessarily) his goals suggested the Rec, but I wondered if here saying anything good about our pro-nature faction is only a cynical nod to a sentiment the show really doesn't feel.
I guess the lavish art of the Chinese Big Fish and Begonia, and the Japanese/Chinese Heaven Official's Blessing, spoiled me; the art here is spare and simple, even rather old-fashioned, and the whole thing has more the feel of a cheaply-produced show aimed at small children rather than an older, or "mixed" audience. When we finally get to the battles, they look like a cross between comic-book superhero melees (the sort of thing where the character gestures, and huge objects are hurled, the ground heaves up, etc.), crossed with the lightning moves we know from Chinese martial arts movies. It's an interesting hybrid of action-movie styles, though difficult to keep up with at times.
The show is not without its moments of humor. The middle of the movie consists of an extended raft voyage conducted by Infinity- and with Hei as an unwilling passenger, who's constantly trying to defy his captor- but Hei gets at least a good jibe in; when Infinity's attempt at roasting a fowl turns out foul indeed, Hei says, "I don't think it's the bird's fault". There's also a marvelous put-down of a spirit dispatched to deal with a crisis (and failing at it): "Are you the only help they could send?"
Personally, I like to believe that humans CAN live symbiotically with the natural world (as endorsed by the biologist Rene Dubos in his book The Wooing of Earth), but my cynical side notes the human habit of screwing things up, and then committing some MORE grandiose act of hubris in an attempt to "fix" the mess. For example, I'm horrified at the idea- seriously proposed- of reducing the amount of sunlight reaching Earth just so humans can continue burning fossil fuels without making things so warm that coastal cities flood. Apparently nobody promoting this "geoengineering" scheme is considering the effect of reduced sunlight on plants, on which all higher life forms on Earth depend. Please: give me the stars- the REAL stars, not fake manmade ones- and the Sun in all its glory.
That's the main gripe I have here- by reducing these issues to a simple "good versus evil" story in which those who oppose human exploitation of the world are the "bad" guys, I kept finding myself rooting for the bad guys. Not at all what I believe the creators of this show intended.
The Rec, again, was suggested by the whole idea that methods, rather than intentions, may make the villain.
It's told competently (if rather plainly), though to say it oversimplifies the issues here is a gross understatement; and the spirits who'd simply surrendered to the human race were, as far as I was concerned, just wimps, not heroes. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: While the Shout! Factory DVD says it's "Not MPAA Rated", it has a suggested rating of PG. Mainly for violence, I suppose.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (1/1)
The Legend of Hei © 2021 DNA Pictures, Co., Ltd/ Beijing HMCH Anime Co., Ltd/ Beijing Joy Pictures Co., Ltd.
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