Top Animation Movies That Made In Asia

Hollywood isn’t the only one that has made waves with their animated films; Asian animation is worthy of a shout out too

  1. 1

    The Tale of the White Serpent (Hakujaden) (1958, Japan)

    Chances are, if you were born in the 1960s or 1970s, as a kid, you would probably have watched this animated feature when it was broadcast on television during our Lunar New Year festive holidays back in the 1980s. Although dubbed in either English or Mandarin back on our goggle box back then, this animated feature actually originated from Japan.

    Released in Japan by Toei Animation in 1958 and later in America in 1961, under the title of Panda and the Magic Serpent, the film is based on the famous Chinese folklore ‘The Legend of the White Snake’, which has definitely seen its fair share of adaptation on film and television. It was said that the decision to base this large-scale Japanese major animation film project on a Chinese mythical tale was made by producer and Toei President Hiroshi Okawa, as a reconciliatory gesture towards China.

    Written by Taiji Yabushita and Shin Uehara, the storyline remains mostly unchanged, including the names and the traditional Chinese appearance of the main characters White Snake Bai Niang, Scholar Xu Xian, White Snake’s lady-in-waiting and confidant Xiao Qing and their monk adversary Fa Hai.

    However, in its attempt to emulate American feature animation studios such as Disney, the film added cutesy elements, much like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty’s forest creature friends and Cinderella’s household pet pals, in the form of the lovable, rotund Panda and red panda Mimi as Xu Xian’s pet companions, as well as several animal street urchins.

    Although it was not the runaway success in the 1960s as its producers had hoped for when initially released in the United States, the film gained great popularity as a cult classic over the years and is widely considered to be a pioneer in Japanese animation and inspired many Japanese animators in the years to come, including Studio Ghibli co-founder Miyazaki Hayao.

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  2. 2

    The Golden Monkey Conquers The Evil (金猴降妖) (1985, China)

    Besides The Tale of the White Serpent, another regular cartoon fixture on our local television during the Lunar New Year holidays back in the 1980s was the Monkey God animated films produced by Shanghai Animation Film Studio (SAFS). Highly regarded as the animation giant of the East, the SAFS was the creative playground of the Wan Brothers, Wan Laiming, Wan Guchan, Wan Chaochen and Wan Dihuan, who were revered as the forefathers and forerunners of the animation industry in China.

    And the Monkey King animated films could be considered to be the best brainchild created by the formidable four, spun off from the success of their first black-and-white animated film Princess Iron Fan from 1941, also adapted from the 16 th Century Chinese classic – Journey to the West.

    Directed by eldest brother Wan Laiming and produced by all four Wan Brothers, the first of the Monkey God films, Uproar in Heaven, actually took two long decades before it came to fruition. Although plans for the film started back in 1941, hot on the heels of the publicly-acclaimed Princess Iron Fan, production unfortunately came to an abrupt halt due to its financial investors backing out in the face of the Pacific War and, later, the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War. It was not until 1954 when Wan Laiming returned to Shanghai, in acceptance of the role of SAFS’ Director, did the production finally pick up from where it left off and the film was eventually completed over the span of 10 years.

    Behind the facade of vibrantly water-coloured scenery, vividly hand drawn characters and the rousing Peking opera styled orchestral accompaniment, on the surface the film, although greatly appealed to kids and adults alike with its mythical storyline, actually had revolutionary connotations. During that tumultuous time, Chairman Mao was likened to Sun Wukong in the first half of the film when he went forth with his Great Leap Forward and destabilised the entire country, much like the mischievous Sun when he stole the golden staff from the Eastern Ocean and threw the entire sea kingdom into disarray and later wreaked havoc in the heavenly kingdom. The metaphorical comparison then continued into the latter half of the film where the Jade Emperor, bearing a mole similarly positioned to that on Mao’s chin, struggled to put a stop to Sun’s chaos, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Mao’s efforts to quell the uprising in China.

    Unsurprisingly, in less than a year following its release, despite its many accolades, the film was banned in China and the entire Chinese animation industry was forcibly shuttered by the Cultural Revolution, with Wan Laiming and many other animators prosecuted and sent to reform through hard labour on farms and factories. It was not until 1978, after the Cultural Revolution had ended, that the national ban on the film finally got lifted, paving the way for two more successful sequels to carry on the legacy of the Wan Brothers.

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  3. 3

    Nezha Conquers the Dragon King (哪吒闹海) (1979, China)

    Following The Monkey King film series, the next critically acclaimed animated feature film to be produced by the Shanghai Animation Film Studio (SAFS) was Nezha Conquers the Dragon King. Released in 1979, the film was created as a tribute to the 30th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Based on yet another 16th Century Chinese classic, Feng Shen Bang ( 封神榜), literally translated as The Apotheosis of Heroes or The Canonisation of the Gods, the film retells the familiar origins tale of the Third Lotus Prince toddler deity Nezha and his feud with the villainous Eastern Sea Dragon King Ao Guang.

    Helmed by directors Wang Shuchen, Yan Dingxian and Xu Jingda, the talented trio carried on where the Wan Brothers left off and impressively produced the very first widescreen animated feature film in China that yet again received both public and critical acclaim for its breathtaking illustrations, poignant storyline and invigorating orchestral soundtrack. Like The Monkey King film series, Nezha Conquers the Dragon King also received its fair share of award honours, including Best Animation at the 3rd Hundred Flowers Awards in 1980, the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Culture’s Outstanding Film Award in 1979 and the Special Award at the Manila International Film Festival in 1983.

    It was also the pioneer Chinese animated feature film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival back in 1980. And as proof of how the film had stood the test of time and remains well-loved to this era, as a tribute to the film’s 35th anniversary, both Google Hong Kong and Google Taiwan featured the animated titular character as their Google Doodle theme on their search engine’s homepage on 30 May 2014

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  4. 4

    Nobita’s Dinosaur (Doraemon: Nobita No Kyoryu) (1980, Japan)

    Before Hello Kitty frenzy seized the world and everyone went pretty gaga in pink, the Japanese animated icon that captured the hearts of millions came in the form of a male robot cat by the name of Doraemon, who had turned from yellow to blue, having sobbed for days after his ears were chewed off and eaten by rats. Together with his owner Nobita Nobi, Nobita’s best friend and lady love Shizuka Minamoto and Nobita’s bullying frenemies Takeshi Goda and Suneo Honekawa, the motley bunch boasts a jaw- droppingly impressive total of 45 volumes of manga volumes, 2,191 television episodes over three series and 37 animated feature length films so far since its creation in 1969.

    Well deserving of a mention in our list of notable animated feature films is definitely the very first of the 37 Doraemon films, Nobita’s Dinosaur, which was also the highest worldwide grossing animated feature film of 1980, having raked in a whopping ¥1,550 million.

    Taking its storyline from a Doraemon comic strip first published in Weekly Shonen Sunday in 1975, the film relates the exciting adventures of Doraemon, Nobita and their friends as they time travel back 100 million years to return a baby Futabasaurus to its era-appropriate habitat.

    With a brand new Doraemon cast and significant advances in animation technology, the film was remade in 2006 with great success. Although, unlike its predecessor, it did not top the list that year as the highest-grossing movie, it still managed to gross over ¥3.28 billion at the box office

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  5. 5

    Older Master Cute Part 3 (山.T. 老夫子) (1991, Hong Kong)

    In this day and age, where speed is key, ten-minute haircuts are part and parcel of our everyday life. But for those of us who were born at least two decades earlier, one of our fondest childhood memories would be burying our noses in the Old Master Q comic books while waiting our turn for our haircut at the barber shop.

    Hence, imagine our delight when our favourite bespectacled, skinny, elderly character and his friends, Big Potato and Mr Chin, made the leap from the comic strip onto the big screen in his very first animated feature length film! Much like the recent Peanuts Movie, the first Older Master Cute film released in 1981 was in essence a continuation of the satirical sarcasm reflective of the Hong Kong social trends and issues back in the 1960s to 1980s, such as the erosion of moral values in modern society and the overt influence and emulation of Western cultures, as reflected in the comic book series created by Alfonso Wong.

    From taking up kung fu lessons under the tutelage of the legendary Bruce Lee, to travelling back in time to the Water Margin era and making friends with an extraterrestrial supernatural being, through the use of local lingo and slapstick spoof-tastic humour, this trio of animated feature films not only successfully tickled the funny bone of Asian audiences, but also attained cult animation film status, winning over numerous Old Master Q fans as well as many animation aficionados too.

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