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An innovative take on a well-known work of classical Chinese mythology, the 3D animated film follows a boy born of the gods who finds himself a feared outcast because of a divine prophecy that says he will bring destruction to the world. The young boy stares down a choice between good and evil before ultimately deciding to overcome his fate and become a hero.
The film’s underdog story clicked with the Chinese audience in a profound way, earning $694 million, the country’s second-biggest total of all time.
Yang, who goes by the nickname Jiaozi (which means “dumpling”) subsequently became an overnight inspiration in China. The 38-year-old filmmaker dropped out of pharmacy school with the long-shot dream of becoming an animator. He then reportedly spent three-and-a-half years holed up in his mother’s home, teaching himself animation techniques, which lead to his breakthrough 2009 short, See Through.
After that project won a special jury prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, Chinese studio Beijing Enlight approached Yang about financing a feature, which ultimately became Ne Zha.
China has submitted films for consideration in the best foreign-language category since 1979. The country has won just two nominations, both for films directed by Zhang Yimou, Ju Dou (1990) and Hero (2002).
The 92nd Academy Awards will be held Feb. 9, 2020.
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