February 1, 2024
by Carla Hay
Directed by Yang Zhigang (also known as Busifan)
Mandarin with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unspecified ancient time in China, the animated film “The Storm” features an all-Chinese cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A wayward man becomes a father figure to a boy he found floating in a river, and the two of them experience danger on a mysterious black ship.
Culture Audience: “The Storm” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching adventurous and visually captivating anime with several emotional moments.
The animated adventure film “The Storm” gets a little repetitive, but the visuals are well-done, and the story takes an unexpected turn. The ending is a bold risk that not every viewer will like, but it stands out from other movies of this genre. “The Storm” might get some comparisons to filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning 2001 film “Spirited Away.” There are a few similarities, but each movie stands on its own as an original story.
Written and directed by Yang Zhigang (also known as Busifan), “The Storm” (which takes place in an unspecified ancient time in China) tells the story of a poor and wayward man named Daguzi, who finds a boy named Mantou, who’s about 8 or 9 years old, when he sees Mantou floating down a river stream. Mantou doesn’t seem to have any family members, so Daguzi decides to take care of Mantou and becomes a father figure to him.
Daguzi and Mantou have nicknames for each other. Mantou has given Daguzi the nickname Biggie. Daguz has given Mantou the nickname Bun. They become very close and develop an emotional bond that is like a father and a son.
Out of financial desperation, Daguzi/Biggie does something illegal to get money. He becomes a fugtive of the law and takes Mantou/Bun with him to go into hiding. Daguzi/Biggie and Mantou/Bun end up in Great Dragon Bay.
On the bay is a mysterious black ship that has a sinister reputation: People who go on the ship often disappear. Daguzi/Biggie and Mantou/Bun go on the ship and find out that there are white jellyfish-like creatures named jellieels that can turn people into jellieelsters after a certain period of time.
As already revealed in the trailer for “The Storm,” Daguzi/Biggie gets bitten by a jellieel. A distraught Mantou/Bun then goes through a race against time to find a turquoise magic mushroom to prevent Daguzi/Biggie from turning into a jellieelster. Along the way, he enlists the help of an army leader named Commander Liu (also known as Miss) and her relative called Uncle Big Hat.
One of the best things about “The Storm” is how it creates a fantastical world that is often stunning to look at and which offers both beauty and danger. The movie’s plot gets a little clunky when it shows the military preoccupations of Commander Liu and her troops. However, the story excels when it’s about the relationship between Daguzi/Biggie and Mantou/Bun. The movie requires a viewer’s full attention in order to appreciate it, because some of the plot zips around, as the two main characters don’t stay in one place for very long.
“The Storm” has overt as well as underlying messages about facing fears and what it means for children to make big decisions without parental guidance. The movie also shows how family members—whether they are biological or chosen—can inspire loyalty and love like no other type of relationships. It’s not a perfect animated film, but there’s a lot to like about it.
There’s plenty of action and suspense, but “The Storm” really succeeds in making viewers care about the characters, especially vulnerable but brave and determined Mantou/Bun. Most viewers will not be prepared for the movie’s ending. Stick around for the movie’s epilogue, which adds to the poignancy of this film’s conclusion.
CMC Pictures released “The Storm” in select U.S. cinemas on January 26, 2024. The movie was released in China on January 12, 2024.