‘I Am What I Am’ Review: Lion Dance Boy Makes Delightful Underdog


A ridiculously fulfilling underdog sports activities tale set in the really specialised arena of Chinese lion dancing, “I Am What I Am” attributes a plot acquainted adequate that it could have been generated by laptop or computer, peppered with details unique plenty of that the knowledge consistently manages to shock. The consequence is an impressed blend of engineering and ingenuity, distinguished by some of the most human character animation this facet of the uncanny valley — not sensible, thoughts you, but relatable, and a welcome departure from the cutesy cartoony-ness of Pixar and its American ilk, developed at a mere portion of the price range.

Globe premiering as a get the job done in development at Los Angeles’ Animation Is Film Festival, this “Karate Kid”-like crowd-pleaser from “Kung Food” creator Haipeng Solar represents yet another breakthrough for China’s fast-rising animation scene. Packed with culturally unique humor, the toon is obviously supposed to serve community audiences (on the Douban and Maoyan platforms, it proved to be 2021’s maximum-rated domestic launch immediately after opening in China on Dec. 8), even though foreigners ought to also respect these a relatable glimpse driving the mask of the colorful custom made, in which groups of qualified dancers steer the two-person costume throughout tall pedestals and other difficult obstacles.

A sheepish, scrawny boy with a girl’s title, teased by other individuals for looking like a “sick cat,” Juan lives by itself in a rural city in Guangdong province whilst his dad and mom get the job done in the large city. His self-esteem is nearly nonexistent right up until one particular working day he witnesses a thriller contestant outmaneuver the nearby bullies in a lion dance competition — a thrilling “capture the flag”-model sport set on an elaborate bamboo scaffolding, which the virtual digicam observes with all the dynamism of a wuxia film. The winner turns out to be a lady his age, also named Juan, who presents the kid her lion mask and provides him the determination he wants to give the activity a consider.

The future half-hour will appear reasonably acquainted, as Juan (the boy) enlists fellow-reject pals Cat and Pet to kind a staff, then seeks out previous winner Huang Feihong, now a salted-fish vendor, to coach them to victory. The motion picture stacks 1 montage following yet another, alternating amongst apparent and surprising jokes alongside the way, to compress the sort of actual physical training that would usually take a 10 years or far more. Right after Juan wins an early regional levels of competition, the plot will take an sudden convert, as Juan does the honorable thing in get to support his mom and dad, bowing out of the following degree and in its place going to Shanghai to earn cash for the family.

In moments like this, the movie walks the line of experience-excellent propaganda, reinforcing how honorable and obedient citizens are predicted to behave, as an alternative of celebrating the form of individual glory to which American audiences are much more accustomed (whilst relaxation certain that U.S. toons feel like a type of behavioral brainwashing to international auds). Screenwriter Zelin Li provides these gangly young ones unforgettable personalities, which demonstrate all the additional energetic by way of the endearingly exaggerated way they’ve been rendered — to say almost nothing of the tasteful, accelerated lion dance moves.

In China, the movie drew criticism for its character models, which consist of modest, squinted eyes (reportedly completed to differentiate the design and style from Japanese animation) and unflattering proportions (1 of Juan’s friends is a Excess fat Albert-fashion stereotype). But the real truth is, the faces listed here are so expressive, they raise the expertise previously mentioned its somewhat formulaic plot, reminding that animation is a bit like lion dancing, as artists disguise behind elaborate avatars and consider to express behavior and thoughts the standard public can understand. The backgrounds are especially extraordinary, which include a golden-hued forest with its crepe-paper canopy of saffron pink leaves, demonstrating just how significantly personal computer animation has occur.

Though “I Am What I Am” evidently speaks to a variety of nationwide-identity difficulties, the feelings represented are common. There’s one thing to be explained for how it celebrates figures from the bottom of modern society, like functioning-course Juan. It is however rather unusual to experience a Chinese movie that facilities common people, as opposed to mythical and magical heroes (like “Ne Zha”), but straightforward to comprehend why that would resonate with audiences.

Of course, the motion picture wouldn’t be approximately as satisfying if Juan did not have a final-moment improve of heart, exhibiting up to compete in the massive Shanghai competitors. Kudos to the team for conceiving a shocking way for that to engage in out, the place successful is not practically as crucial as Juan proving his individual benefit to himself.


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