Cartoonist, illustrator, painter, Renaissance man Milton Knight stopped by this week. He brought along a donation to the archive database… an amazing DVD trilogy of Chinese animated features called Uproar in Heaven…. The earliest one is titled…
This bizarre animated feature was made just a few short years after Disney’s Snow White, but it more closely resembles the early 30s Fleischer cartoons. It’s a strange mix of primitive drawing, technical rotoscoping and imaginative metamorphosis… even a sexy girl!
Later in this post, you’ll find a documentary on the making of this incredible film. If you have any more information to add, please post the information to the comments link below, and I’ll add them to this article.
The DVD of this film is out of print, but the entire film has been uploaded to YouTube…
Directed by Wan Laiming, written by Wai Laiming and Li Kuero, and animated by the Shanghai Animation Studio, Uproar in Heaven is a pair of films based upon the "Monkey King Saga" which also inspired Alakazam the Great.
The Wan Brothers created the first installment of this trilogy of films in 1941. The second was released in 1961 and the third followed closely in 1964.
The design reminds me in a strange way of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty which was released at around the same time.
The DVD of Uproar in Heaven is out of print, but the entire film has been uploaded to YouTube in six parts…
On the DVD with these films is a “making of” documentary narrated in Chinese. It’s an amazing look at pioneering animators working in a totally different culture than ours. Animation Resources supporter, Yinghua Moore generously offered to provide a capsule translation of the narration for us in English. Here then is the documentary…
The Uproar in Heaven films (Monkey King Havok in Heaven / Hue And Cry Over The Sky / Big Trouble) were directed by Wan Laiming, one of the early pioneers of art films in China. These animated films were so popular in China that Wan is regarded as a treasured artist by the Chinese people. Wai Laiming had three brothers- Vancomyein Toad, the twin brother who was moon to Wan Laiming’s sun; Wan Chaochen and Wan Dihuan. They are all well known in China as "The Wan Brothers".
They were born in Nanjing, on the banks of the Yangzi River. Their father, a businessman, expected them to learn a trade from books, so they could make a lot of money when they grew up. But their mother encouraged them to cut
paper into the shapes of people and birds, and the sons enjoyed art more than book-learning. When they were young, they performed puppet shows with their paper-cut characters, based on a story from the four classic novels titled "Journey to the West", the books that document the legendary Monkey King epic.
In 1916, the family moved to Shanghai. Wan Laiming took a job working for the Shanghai Commercial Press, and held positions in the Department of Fine Arts and the Department of Activities Movie Service starting in 1919. Inspired by American cartoons, China’s shadow puppet plays, and cinematic techniques he saw in live action films, Wan Laiming began making his own animated films. His brothers joined him at the Shanghai Commercial Press shortly after they graduated from art schools. Together, they made the advertising film, "Shuzhendong Chinese Typewriter" (1925), which marked the beginning of their animation career.
In 1926, they made their first silent animated cartoon short, "Studio In A Row"; and in 1935, they made their first sound cartoon, "The Camel Presentation Dance". After the outbreak of the War of Resistance against Japan, the Wan Brothers, (with the exception of Wan Duhuan, who had started a photo studio) moved to Wuhan and produced the propaganda films, "Anti-Japanese War Slogan" and "Song of Resistance".
The first full length cartoon feature was made by Walt Disney in 1937, and in 1940, after returning to Shanghai, the Wan Brothers began work on their own 8,000 foot, 80 minute long sound cartoon film, "Tieshangongzhu", completing it a year later. This film lay a sound foundation for the Wan Brothers’ career in animation production. After its completion, the Wan Brothers moved to Hong Kong for a few years, and in 1954, they returned one by one to New China, where they became directors at the Shanghai Animated Film Studio. They devoted all of their time and energies from that point on to making animated films for New China.
The 1961 film in the "Uproar in Heaven" series is the culmination of all of Wan Laiming’s painstaking efforts. He later recalled how the crew made the movie…
The script of "Uproar in Heaven" was adapted from one of the four classic novels, "Journey to the West". Li Kerou and I were asked to write the story. The first thing we worried about was whether we would dare to present the story as it was told in the book. It was a sensitive issue at the time. We studied the first seven chapters of "Journey to the West" and believed it to have profound significance- the sharp contrasts of conflict and struggle between the oppressor and oppressed within the mythological context. In "Uproar in Heaven", the dramatic conflict is mainly between the Monkey King and the rulers headed up by Emperor Jade. Throughout a series of adventures, the Monkey King matures, and uses his courageous ingenuity, unyielding character and tenacity to prevail.
The Monkey King has the characteristics of a real monkey- He’s a lively and nimble prankster. But he is also a God that can change 72 times, or become invisible at will. Human beings certainly do not have these features. He is also thoughtful and upright, so in the shaping of the character, it was necessary to exaggerate some aspects and use our imagination. Zhang Guangyu, the main designer on the film, together with Yan Dingxian and Lin Wenxiao made the characters in the film come vividly to life, and they deserve a great deal of credit for the success of the film.
For each scene, we paid particular attention to the setting and atmosphere in order to unify the scenes with the personality and style of the characters. We absorbed the best essence of Chinese folk art tradition, and added to it our own imagination. As a result, the film has a very special flavor. Because of the fantasized atmosphere of the myth, we strived to construct a unity of rich colors, refinement toward simplicity and a shaping of the images that is more "vague" than "real". By doing this, we achieved a greater artistic effect.
The pacing of the film adopted many techniques of montage, so the story develops quickly, avoiding a slow unfolding of the plot. We made use of typical Chinese folk music- the drums and percussion instruments commonly used in Peking opera. This added a strong sense of rhythm to the action of the figures.
The director of photography on the picture was Duan Xiaoxun. She later described how they shot the effects on the Monkey King’s weapon, and the magnificent palaces of the heavens…
The Monkey King’s weapon is called the "Jingubang". It looks like a glittering red stick with yellow on both ends. In order to make it glow and sparkle, we employed multiple exposures, and it proved to be a very successful technique in the film.
The voices were provided by many famous actors of the time. Among them were Qiu Yiefeng (Monkey King), Fu Runsheng (Emperor Jade), and Shang Hua (Taibaijinxing). Their excellent work added a great deal to the film.
After more than a year, and nearly 70,000 drawings, the image of the Monkey King finally appeared on the big screen. Wan Laiming’s decades old dream had come true. In the 1980s, the Wan Brothers were awarded an honor by the Chinese government for devoting their life to Chinese arts and filmmaking. Wan Laiming passed away 1999 at the age of 98. His tombstone reads, "Founder of the Chinese Animation Industry".
This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Animation.