Saturday, September 1, 2012

Animated Short: Batman of Shanghai

The year is 1930.  The setting is Shanghai, China.  Within the comfort of his personal chambers, a crime boss is presented with a most wondrous gift: The fabled Scroll of Destiny.  The Scroll can grant its owner with limitless power, and complete dominion over any given territory.  Before “The Boss” can take possession of it, a colorful thief known as Catwoman bursts into his domicile.  She steals the scroll and disappears into the alleyways of Shanghai.  The Boss’s minions give chase.  A rickshaw runner, who also has designs on the scroll, joins the pursuit, but not before transforming into a hulking behemoth known as Bane.  Before long, yet another combatant enters the fray: A mysterious apparition known as Batman, who seeks to protect the scroll from all who would misuse it. 

Batman of Shanghai is a three part animated short from Wolf Smoke Animation Studio.  It premiered at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, and has since been shown on Cartoon Network’s DC Nation block of programming.  The short throws caution to the wind by offering a rather outlandish take on the caped crusader.  Fortunately, it manages to do so with a sizeable modicum of style and energy.

Though it bares many of the hallmarks of Japanese animation, Batman of Shanghai is a distinctly Chinese endeavor.  This is by design, as the studio behind it is located in Shanghai and populated by Chinese animators.  That lends the project an air of authenticity, and proves a most invaluable asset in terms of production design and conceptualization.  Each frame feels as though it was initially rendered as scroll painting and transferred to an animation cel.  During the various fight scenes, a blurring effect accompanies the characters movements.  This nicely provides the illusion of otherworldly speed, and adds a bit of chopsocky ambiance. 

The character designs and concepts reveal a sense of the absurd.  Bane is hilariously re-imagined as a rickshaw operator.  He also displays a dichotomy akin to the one that exists between Bruce Banner and the Hulk.  After juicing up, he scales buildings like King Kong.  Catwoman looks like a cross between a Peking Opera performer and a female Luchador.  Batman himself is conceived in purely mystical terms.  He overcomes obstacles and opponents not by using gadgets and technology, but by harnessing chi energy.  He’s even able to disperse into a swarm of bats a la Dracula.  This iteration of the Dark Knight clearly isn’t a regular guy.

Batman of Shanghai is sheer nonsensical delight.  It operates according to its own rules in its own self-contained universe.  It offers no logical explanation for any of the onscreen occurrences, nor does it feel the need to justify its existence.  It simply is.  After decades of “grim and gritty” Batman, this sort of reckless abandon is refreshing.        

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