The Guardian Brothers is a Weinstein release of the 2016 Chinese animated film Little Door Gods produced by Light Chaser Animation and directed by Gary Wang. In this post, I will dissect the differences between the two versions of the movie and give my review.
Overview: The spirit world is in crisis because humans no longer believe in spirits. A door god named Yu Lei decides to unleash a beast to wreck havoc in the human world in order to make humans dependent on door gods again. To do so, Yu Lei has to break three seals located in the human world. Meanwhile, in the human world, a mother and her daughter move to a new city to take over a family restaurant. Their restaurant is one of the few buildings that still has a door god poster on its door. The poster acts as a portal allowing Yu Lei to enter the human world. He is followed by his brother Shen Tu, who teams up with the mother and daughter to save the restaurant and stop Yu Lei. Along the way, the daughter makes new friends and the adults learn to adapt to job changes.
- Yu Lei, the door god “hero” who wants to help humans… by endangering them first.
- Shen Tu, Yu Lei’s brother.
- Beckett, an elderly spirit who gets banished / fired.
- The mayor, the authority figure of the spirit world.
- Dean, the mayor’s assistant who’s accompanied by Minion-like cherubs.
- Colossus, a large spirit and guardian of the first seal.
- Bloom, a flower spirit and guardian of the second seal.
- Grandma, an elderly matriarch who leaves her soup shop to Luli and Rain.
- Luli, Grandma’s adult daughter who inherits the soup shop.
- Rain, Luli’s school-aged daughter.
- Mr. Rogman, a rival restaurant owner who causes trouble for Luli and Rain.
- Others: the health inspector, Rogman’s henchmen, the puppeteer, the neighborhood kids.
Differences between the original and the Weinstein version:
- Weinstein trimmed 20 minutes off the movie. They removed some useless stuff, like the drunken Halloween dance party, but then they left a scene where the health inspector tells Shen Tu “I remember you from the Halloween dance party!”.
- Weinstein added a voice-over narrator as well as extra dialogue (they make characters talk when their mouths aren’t on screen or during sights and smiles).
- In the original version, the mayor threatens to fire Yu Lei and Shen Tu because their job has become obsolete. Yu Lei refuses to undergo job retraining and decides to unleash the beast to make his job relevant again. In the Weinstein version, the mayor wants to separate gods from humans. He threatens to banish Yu Lei and Shen Tu if they travel to the human world. Yu Lei defies this order and unleashes the beast to force gods and humans to unite against a common enemy.
- In the original version, Bloom is Lu Yei’s girlfriend. She says he should get a better job because she does’t want to date a door god, to which Lu Yei replies “I like being a door god”, and then they fight bitterly. In the Weinstein version, she’s just a quirky spirit doing her job of protecting the seal.
- I’m pretty sure Mr. Rogman asks Luli to marry him in the original version.
- Weinstein replaced instrumental score and original songs by American music.
Review: Light Chaser Animation is a relatively new Chinese studio aspiring to create “world-class” animated films with stories rooted in Chinese culture. Little Door Gods is their first movie. It was re-branded and reworked as The Guardian Brothers by The Weinstein Company for its US and worldwide Netflix distribution. The movie is a bit of a mixed bag in either of its iteration. A lot of care went into the design, story and music, but the pacing, tone and character development remain inconsistent.
The main issue is the disjointed pacing. There’s a lot of verbose exposition – explaining the rules of the spirit world, the door gods’ relationship with the humans, the economic crisis of the spirit world, the backstory of the Nian, etc. There are a bunch of unnecessary characters, including too many villains, one of whom flies around with a group of Minion knock offs. The movie also jumps to random dance parties and obligatory action scenes, which feels more ADHD-catering than story-building.
But the movie has some good moments, both when it comes to animation and emotion. I particularly like the moment when the mom is inspired to try new ingredients after a couple of magic petals transform her soup. She comes up with new recipes and manages to delight her costumers sans magic. It shows the value of hard work and innovation. Right about that time, Rain is seen bonding with the kids who previously bullied her. She gives them door god posters, making tradition cool again.
Everyone in the movie is seen adapting to change. It talks about job insecurity in a changing industry. The original version mentions that the only god who is still popular with humans is the god of wealth. I also like that the movie puts two female characters front and center. The mom and the daughter are resourceful and they don’t need any love interests. In fact, they say the soup shop was passed down five generations of women. That’s a wholesome and refreshing story to tell.
Verdict: The movie has interesting thematic ideas and some ambitious visuals, but the script is weak. All in all, I think the original version is the best version, even if it drags in the middle and contains absurd Halloween dance parties and marriage proposals.
- Door gods (门神) are divine guardians of doors and gates in Chinese folklore. They protect against the entry of evil influences and encourage the entry of positive ones. They are represented in paintings or prints that can be pasted on doors.
- Shen Tu (神荼) and Yu Lei (郁垒) are the names of the two most ancient door gods.
- The beast Yu Lei wants to unleash in called a Nian. Here’s the Wikipedia definition:
According to Chinese mythology, a Nian (simplified Chinese: 年兽; traditional Chinese: 年獸; pinyin: nián shòu) is a beast that lives under the sea or in the mountains. He was said to have the body of a bull and head of a lion. Once every year at the beginning of Chinese New Year, it comes out of hiding to feed, but during winter since food is sparse he would go to the village. He would eat the crops and sometimes the villagers, mostly children.
- List of English songs:
- Glow by Deron Johnson and Andrea Remanda
- Soul by Charming Liars
- Celebration by Cool & the Gang
- Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas
- Links to original Chinese songs: