Review Date: 10/25/08
China's first full length animated film was produced in 1941, right in the middle of World War II. As such, it definitely has a war-time feel to it, and the film immediately sets a tone of Communist propaganda by running a disclaimer saying that "This is not a fantasy film. It's a metaphor for the difficulties in life, which we can only overcome by working together." And "working together" usually results in mob violence, as the people rise up to beat the crap out of Bull Demon King at the end of the picture.
"Princess Iron Fan" is a retelling of the popular Chinese tale "Journey To The West." Monkey King and his comrades are travelling west to retrieve some holy scriptures, but are blocked by an impassable obstacle known as Fiery Mountain. The only thing that can quench the flames of Fiery Mountain is Princess Iron Fan's Palm Leaf Fan, but she refuses to lend it to our band of heroes. They spend the majority of the film trying to steal it from her, and ultimately force her hand by resorting to violence. Just what kind of message is this, anyway? It certainly seems at odds with the spiritual Buddhist pilgrimage that the characters are on.
This is a difficult film to watch on several levels. First of all, and not surprisingly, the print quality is terrible and the source material has not fared well over the years. It's scratched, dirty, faded, and is overall in very poor condition. Secondly, the soundtrack is one of the most annoying things I've ever heard, and the poor sound quality certainly doesn't help. Content wise, the film is nearly incomprehensible, both visually and culturally. The animation itself it very smooth, but the camera moves are jarring and make no sense. Additionally, the body language is confusing, making it very hard to understand what the characters are doing and why. A lot of time is spent just lingering on the characters in idle poses, which drags down the pacing considerably. Perhaps they did this because the medium was such a novelty at the time. Unfortunately, apart from the historical and cultural value of the film, I found it to be an annoying waste of time.