Chinese Aladdin Sans Romance
By Sanuj Hathurusinghe Ceylon Today Features
Not wasting their time after the recent release of The Mitchells vs the Machines, Sony Picture Animation recently released their second Netflix exclusive animation, Wish Dragon. The animator Chris Applehans' directorial debut is a rather enjoyable family movie and despite the relatively lower ratings this movie has gathered so far in comparison with The Mitchells vs the Machines I have to say that as a person who has watched both movies recently, I prefer Wish Dragon for how it delivers a simple life lesson in a fun and exciting way, incorporating Chinese culture.
The movie gives out the classic life lesson, 'money can't buy happiness’. While this is repeatedly told to us like a mantra throughout our lives, in the current world of finance where everything has a price, it is hard to dispute the idea that happiness too can be bought if you have enough money. For example, if a person is sad because he doesn't have a nice car, then money can easily solve his problem thereby bringing him happiness. However, leaving materialism aside, the philosophical aspect of it is that there are some things in life that cannot be bought, no matter how much money we are willing to spend; like friendship. While money can buy you attraction it can never buy you feelings or make someone develop those feelings for you. As the movie takes place in China where modern culture is so money-oriented, there isn't any other better setting for the movie to take place to deliver this message.
The movie revolves around Din and Li-Na, two childhood friends who were inseparable during their early school days but are now estranged as the girl Li-Na has moved out of the low-end neighbourhood they used to live in with her father who is in pursuit of greener pastures. Din is a class act who has a bright future ahead of him and Li-Na has become an idol and a popular poster girl for all the exclusive luxurious brands. After all these years Din is still yearning to have his friend back and works tirelessly to earn enough money, sometimes skipping lessons, to have the chance of meeting his friend Li-Na at her upcoming birthday party. While he is in his usual delivery boy routine he encounters an old man who gives him a teapot that contains a dragon. The dragon who is visible only to the holder of the teapot grants three wishes to Din who uses them to get a chance to meet Li-Na. With a villain who can do Van Damme splits while standing coming after Din for the teapot and his determination to rekindle his friendship with Li-Na, the story takes rather predictable twists and turns before reaching the typical happily-ever-after conclusion.
The movie lacks that iconic freshness, neatness, and cleanliness some of the best animation movies have. The furry magical dragon in the movie for example could have been more intricately animated giving more emphasis to the fluffiness. Perhaps this is because it is Applehan's first experience at the director's chair. The animator who has worked in Coraline, Angry Birds, and The Princes and the Frog has evidently taken inspiration from the latter two movies. The movements of the characters and even the fight sequences are distinctly cartoonish however this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
While there are many characters in the movie the duo who get the most screen time are Din and the dragon named Long. As the movie progresses we see how the qualities of the two characters change when influenced by money, companionship, disappointment, and family love. Din was pure at the beginning of the movie and valued friendship above anything else but towards the end the frustrations he has to suffer leads him giving in to the power of wealth. During the same timeline Long goes through the same experiences as Din but on the contrary, Long who was initially money-oriented begin to realise there is more to life than riches. The relationship between Din and Long is an eye-opener for both of them which prompts them to see the world in a different, realistic way than how they have been looking at it.
Since the theme or the message the movie tries to send is established early in the movie, the outcome or the climax of the movie is not really mind-blowing but even with the knowledge of how the movie will end, it was quite enjoyable. Another major credit should go to the creators for not making the relationship between the two characters; Din and Li-Na a romantic one. Once childhood friends growing up to become lovers is a much-explored theme in Hollywood and sometimes we see this at least suggested in movies just for the sake of it or to make that happy ending a Hollywood ending. In Wish Dragon, this popular trend is not blindly followed and it works perfectly well.
Wish Dragon is an easy-on-the-eye watch that gives you glimpses into Asian culture, their family values and how priceless friendship is. It is definitely worth watching and is a good family movie which can be enjoyed by everyone.