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Nanjing animator makes global impact

  • Written by Anil
HN speaks with Liu Jian, who spent three years producing the feature animation Piercing I, the first Chinese production ever to show at 5 major European film festivals. At present, he's preparing distribution, producing new films and chilling with the Drug Art crew. {xtypo_dropcap}L{/xtypo_dropcap}iu Jian's animated feature  Piercing I was the first ever in China chosen to show at 5 major European film festivals (2009-2010). At present, he is listening to distribution offers, producing new films and chilling out with the Drug Art crew

Liu Jian graduated from the Nanjing Arts Institute and then went off to work for an animation company. "One day, I talked to my wife about the idea of making an animation film. With her permission, we sold our apartment, relied on our savings and we also got help from our relatives. The whole combination of money needed to produce the film was USD $100,000."

For three years, he drew animation frames on a WACOM graphic tablet. One second of footage requires 24 frames. One year ago, the film gained noteriety overseas and gained much critical acclaim.

After showing at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France, critic Thierry Meranger wrote (translated from French): "The real surprise in competition comes from China. Not from the Shanghai school telling stories of monks and monkeys... but from a perfect unknown called Liu Jian. Dry and without concessions, his first feature film Piercing I is a vivid sign of Chinese animation's return."

Over the past year, Liu Jian and his film have enjoyed an excellent adventure: 

Plot synopsis

Zhang Xiaojun came from a poor rural area to the big city. He put himself through university and found a job in a shoe factory. 

In 2008, the financial crisis forced the closure of many factories. Zhang Xiaojun lost his job. One day, a supermarket guard beats him up, mistaking him for a thief.

In vain, he asks the supermarket manager for financial redress – his dearest wish is to return to his village to resume a simple farming life. 

Right before his departure, the police arrest him. The supermarket manager also has his problems.

On a moonlit night, the storylines converge in a teahouse near the city rampart.

Speaking with the producer

The other night, Frantastic and I met up with Liu Jian at the Drug Art Museum to learn more about the film.  

HN: What is the significance of the title of the film?

Liu Jian: In English it's called Piercing 1, in Chinese it's called Piercing Me. It's the first of an intended trilogy. 

HN: What was it that you wanted to express in the film?

Liu Jian: People are always influenced by their environment, and everyone, at some point will experience a 'piercing' – either physical or spiritual – from a clash or confrontation. I wanted to express a heart-breaking feeling, like slowly getting pierced. 

HN: It sounds deep.

Liu Jian: Well, it's a sad story. It's not a story that just scrapes the surface, it explores the things that really drive people to make certain decisions.

HN: Is the story set in Nanjing?

Liu Jian: No, it's not set in any particular place, but it's got a feeling of south China. However, all of the drawings were based on my Nanjing impressions. 

HN: You spent three years making this?

Liu Jian: Yes, I mainly worked alone. First I wrote the story, then I drew each frame – tens of thousands of frames. Most of the time, it was the support of my wife thet kept me motivated, and kept me sane. 

HN: Where can people get a copy of the film?

Liu Jian: It's not out yet, we are considering different distribution options. 

HN: How's it going?

Liu Jian: Right now my wife is handling all of the business things, but I hope for an effective distribution company to take over soon. I hope to have everything in place for the China Independent Film Festival, which happens in October. In the best case scenario, I'm hoping to make back the money that was put into producing the film.

HN: How has the government responded to the film?

Liu Jian: I've gotten a mixed reaction. The film deals with a lot of negative aspects of life. Even though these aren't China-specific, government censors are always sensitive.

It seems that they're happy that a Chinese film is gaining international acclaim, but at the same time, with the negative themes in the movie... right now they're not doing anything to block the film, but they're not doing anything to promote it, either.

HN: What's coming up in the future?

Liu Jian: I have a film showing at a Dutch cultural event in Shanghai and another one soon after in Beijing. Then I hope to finalize a distribution deal, and launch the film in time for the China Independent Film Festival. Plus I'm working on a couple of other films.

HN: Thanks very much for your time. Any chance of a public sneak preview of the film?

Liu Jian: Let's talk. Everything is possible. For more information about the film (trailer, reviews, press) or to contact Liu Jian, check out Le-Joy.net.

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