Archive for the ‘wan brothers’ Category

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Animation: The Wan Brothers’ Monkey King Features

Uproar In Heaven

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…


Uproar In Heaven

Uproar In Heaven

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!

Uproar In Heaven

Uproar In Heaven

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.

Uproar In Heaven

The DVD of this film is out of print, but the entire film has been uploaded to YouTube…


Uproar In Heaven
Uproar In Heaven

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.

Uproar In Heaven

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.

Uproar In Heaven
Uproar In Heaven

The design reminds me in a strange way of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty which was released at around the same time.

Uproar In Heaven
Uproar In Heaven

The DVD of Uproar in Heaven is out of print, but the entire film has been uploaded to YouTube in six parts…


The Wan Brothers

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…

Wan Brothers Documentary (Chinese/2005)
(Quicktime 7 / 75 MB)

The Wan Brothers

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".

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.

The Wan Brothers

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.

The Wan Brothers

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 Wan Brothers

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 Wan Brothers

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 Wan Brothers

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.

The Wan Brothers

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 Wan Brothers

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 Wan Brothers

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.

The Wan Brothers

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".

The Wan Brothers

Stephen Worth
Animation Resources

Animated CartoonsAnimated Cartoons

This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Animation.

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Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

Biography: The Wan Brothers

This posting is a stub. You can contribute to this entry by providing information through the comments link at the bottom of this post. Please organize your information following the main category headers below….


Wan Lai-Ming- Birth: January 18, 1899 , Death:October 1997?Wan Gu-Chan- Birth:January 18, 1899, Death: November 1995?Wan Chao-Chen- Birth: 1906 Death: 1992?Wan Di-Huan- Birth:1907


an Lai-Ming: Animator, Director and writer ?Wan Gu-Chan: Animator, Director ?Wan Chao-Chen: Animator, Art Director?Wan Di-Huan: Animator, Photographer

Bio Summary

The Wan brothers were born at the turn of the century in Nanjing, China. During their early years they put on puppet shows and experimented with art within the family’s home. Ultimately, they taught themselves how to animate; though, Chao-Chen did travel to America in the 1940s to study it academically. The twins Lai-Ming and Gu-Chan stuck together the longest career-wise; eventually they became the pioneers of Chinese animation. All four brothers reunited professionally for the final film in their Uproar in Heaven series. Then after, beginning in 1965, the Cultural Revolution in China halted all animation for almost ten years. The Wan brothers, especially Lai-Ming, were recognized for their efforts in animation and art by the Chinese government in the 1980s.

Early Life/Family

Their businessman father expected them to learn a trade from books, so they could be successful in life. Their mother, however, encouraged them to cut paper into the shapes of people and birds. When they were young, they performed stories, such as Journey to the West, in puppet shows with their paper characters. In 1916, the family moved to Shanghai, and Lai-Ming soon left for a job at the Shanghai Commercial Press.


Wan Lai-Ming taught himself animation and started making his own animated films by 1919 after viewing American cartoons, China’s shadow puppet plays, and cinematic techniques in live action films. In the late 1940s, Wan Chao-Chen traveled to America to study animation. He returned during the early 1950s, eventually directing a puppet animation, The Little Heroes (1953).

Career Outline

Lai-Ming worked at the Shanghai Commercial Press in both the Department of Fine Arts and the Department of Activities Movie Service beginning in 1919. After his brothers finished art school, they joined him at the Commercial Press, and together they made the advertising film, Shuzhendong Chinese Typewriter (1925). This film would be the beginning of their animation career.?The brothers worked under the Great Wall Film Company beginning in 1924, where they produced the first animated short film, Uproar in the Studio. This film utilized the techniques they witnessed in American cartoons, such as Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell, by animating a cartoon character acting on an artist’s canvas. They believed that animation should be instructive and thought provoking as well as entertaining. Eventually, they hoped to develop an animation style that was uniquely Chinese. At this time, Di-Huan left the company to pursue a career in photography and to set up his own studio. In 1933, Lai-Ming, Gu-Chan, and Chao-Chen were hired by the Mingxing Film Company to set up an animation unit in Shanghai. They worked at this studio until 1937, when the Japanese capture of Shanghai shut down the studio. After the closure, they relocated to Wuhan province where they made patriotic animation for the China Film Production Firm. By 1939, Lai-Ming and Gu-Chan were invited to set up another studio in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. There they viewed Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which inspired them to create a similar Chinese animated feature.?Production of the full-length animation took place in their new Xinhua United Film animation department. They decided on an adaptation of a story from the long Monkey King folk tale written in the sixteenth century. The result was Princess with the Iron Fan, a 76-minute cartoon produced in sixteen months by a team of 237 artists.?During the war, the remaining brothers worked on propaganda films, which combined war songs and animation. After the war, one by one the brothers returned to the Shanghai Animated Film Studio where they became directors. By 1956, Lai-Ming finished the first color cartoon in China, Why the Crow is Black-Coated, this film would later become the first Chinese animation recognized internationally. In 1961, Lai-Ming and Gu-Chan started work on an idea Gu-Chan had had before the war. This would later become the Uproar in Heaven series, which revisited the story in Princess with the Iron Fan and told the next part of the Journey to the West novel. All four brothers reunited professionally to work on the last of the series in 1964. ?In 1965, when the Cultural Revolution began in China, all art forms were put on hold. This eventually crippled the animation industry for almost ten years.

Comments On Style

During the 1930s, the Wan brothers utilized cut-paper and cel animation for entertainment and patriotic films. They also used live action mixed with cartoon animation to imitate the Fleischer Studio’s Out of the Inkwell series. For Princess with the Iron Fan, they enhanced the quality and sped up production by relying on Rotoscoping as well as traditional animation techniques and metamorphosis.?In 1958, Gu-Chan began work on a new technique of cut-paper animation, which was showcased in Pigsy Eats Watermelon. His technique relied on ancient folk art cut-paper designs rather than the origami styles being created at the same time.?For the final film the brothers worked on together, Uproar in Heaven, the Wans utilized many new artistic styles. They created simple backgrounds with vague shapes, but ones that would maintain the unity of rich colors throughout other elements of the film. The film also used motifs from Beijing Opera, such as movement and music. When the film was released, it was considered a metaphor for the current havoc caused in bourgeois China by the Chairman Mao.


The first influences that reached China were US animated shorts from the Fleischer studio. Therefore, the Out of the Inkwell series heavily influenced the Wan brothers’ earliest shorts. Later, more US animation including Popeye and Betty Boop reached China, influencing their styles further. The Wan brothers were then deeply influenced by Disney’s feature films. Most notably, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs stirred them to begin a feature length Chinese animation.?Their films were also influences to other aspiring animators within Asia. Most notably, after viewing Princess with the Iron Fan, Tezuka Osamu was inspired to become a comics artist and later, an animator. It also prompted the Japanese Navy to commission its own animated feature film for Japan.





Shuzhendong Chinese Typewriter (1925) ?Studio in a Row (1926) their first silent animated short?A Paper Man Makes Trouble (1930) combined live-action and animation?The Prince of Blood (1932) anti-Japanese propaganda film?The Camel’s Dance (1935) China’s first sound cartoon?Patriotic films made while at Mingxing Company (1933-1937):?The Sad State of the Nation ?Aviation Saves China ?Detective Dog (1937) comedy for children?The Tortoise and the Hare (1937)?Patriotic films while at China Film Production Firm (1937-1938):?The Anti-Japanese War Special Collection ?Slogans of the Anti-Japanese War ?Songs of the Anti-Japanese War ?Princess with the Iron Fan (1941) China’s first full-length animation?The Little Heroes (1953) Chao-Chen’s puppet animation?Why the Crow is Black-Coated (1956) China’s first color animation of notable length?Pigsy Eats Watermelon (1958) Gu-Chan’s experiment with cut-paper animation?Uproar in Heaven (1961-1965) first color animation feature in China?The Golden Conch (1964) Guchan’s paper-cut animation


The brother’s film, Uproar in Heaven, won the Hundred Flowers Award in 1963 for best-animated feature. It also won the Best Film Prize at the London International Film Festival 1978.?Gu-Chan’s film, The Golden Conch, won the Lumumba Prize at the Asia-Africa International Film Festival in 1964. In the 1980s, the Wan brothers were awarded an honor by the Chinese government for their devotion to Chinese arts and filmmaking.

Related Links

Bibliographic References

“Princess Iron Fan.” Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia. ?

?“Biography: Wan Brothers” ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive. ? ?

“History of Chinese Animation.” Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia. ?

Beck, Jerry. Animation Art. London: Flame Tree Publishing, 2004. 31, 53, 77, 114.


Contributors To This Listing

Kelly Costello

To make additions or corrections to this listing, please click on COMMENTS below…???

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