FIRST IMPRESSION - FEATURE
I really liked Wish Dragon. So much so, I watched it in both Mandarin and English. I'm a big believer in listening to a films authentic language, especially when a story is rooted deeply into a culture.
Wish Dragon is a passion project from Chris Appelhaus, produced primarily in China. Jackie Chan's Sparkle Roll came on board to partner on the movie as well as Sony Pictures Animation.
A lot of people draw parallels to the tale of Aladdin, and ultimately, it is effectively the same story. A poor boy finds a magic pot and summons a spiritual entity that grants 3 wishes. He is pursuing a modern princess, but in a different twist of the tale, they were childhood friends and he hopes to rekindle that relationship. How does he do it? Well, that's where wishes come true.
There are visual elements I really enjoy about the feature. The juxtaposition between old and new is fascinating. Primarily this is contrasted by these giant billboards, highlighting a modern setting of what success is said to look like, often mirroring the simple happiness people find in daily life. This link is particularly potent for Din, the main character, as he pines to be with his best friend, seeing her nightly tower over his small, old shukimen. What was fascinating is that these material aspirations never occurred to Din, he's focused more on the connection between Li Na and him.
These are all regular story traits, but I think the stand out character for me was LongZhu, or Long, the titular wish dragon. I really like how they use the physicality of his body, twisting it in unique, interesting shapes. When he's introduced, it's easy to see the parallels between Genie from Aladdin and how he manifests his power. But Long feels much more self serving than Genie from the beginning, and for good reason. Once Din makes his 3 wishes, Long is free from being a Wish Dragon, as he'll have fulfilled his remit of serving 10 masters.
Their relationship is so nice to see blossom, and I think the overall story is very well balanced between the three characters of Din, Li Na and Long. Each one has their own desires and even the supporting cast, all their wants come into conflict, despite their wants pointing toward the same goal.
It's evident they spent a lot of time on the story in this feature, and really the draw backs for me are more technical limitations, perhaps to do with budgetary constraints. Such as the background characters are recycled a lot, and certain textures feel very unfinished. But understanding the process of making this film and the passion, care and desire so many artists brought to it, leaving their studio jobs to join, is evident across the care they give the story. Beyond all that, it feels very authentic to Chinese culture.
I really liked Wish Dragon, I think it'll sit in the back of my mind of how to successfully marry interesting stories together.