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: As humans increasingly abandon religious practices, the gods see their jobs becoming obsolete, and the spirit world experiences an employment crisis. Some of the gods have to undergo job retraining, others lose their job entirely. Yu Lei, a door god by profession, is determined to save his job. He plans on unleashing a Nian, a beast capable of wrecking havoc in the human world, to make the humans need the gods’ protection. To unleash the Nian, Yu Lei needs to break three seals located in the human world. Meanwhile, a single mom moves back to her hometown with her daughter in tow to take over her mother’s restaurant. The restaurant is one of the few buildings that still has a door god poster on its door, which 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 duo to save the restaurant and stop Yu Lei’s plan. Along the way, the daughter makes new friends and the adults, god and human alike, 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/Earth God, an elderly spirit who gets banished/fired.
- The mayor, the authority figure of the spirit world.
- Dean/Night Spirit, 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:
- They trimmed 20 minutes off the movie. They notably removed the drunken Halloween dance party, but then they left a line of dialogue where the health inspector tells Shen Tu “I remember you from the Halloween dance party!”, which doesn’t make sense anymore.
- They added a voice-over narration and a lot of extra dialogue. Scenes that were completely silent in the original suddenly become loaded with chit chat. It looks weird because they make characters talk while their mouths are off screen or during sights and smiles.
- They kind of changed the conflict. In the original, the mayor orders the gods to undergo job retraining and fires those who are unable to adapt. Yu Lei refuses to let go and decides to unleash the Nian to try to make his job relevant again by making the humans need his protection. In the Weinstein version, the mayor forbids the gods from traveling to the human world and banishes those who do so. Yu Lei defies the order and unleashes the Nian thinking it will force gods and humans to unite against a common enemy.
- They removed romantic subplots. In the original, Bloom says she doesn’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, there’s no mention of them dating. Also, in the original, Mr. Rogman asks Luli to marry him, but this is removed from the Weinstein version.
- They replaced instrumental score and original songs with American music.
Review: Light Chaser Animation is a new Chinese studio aspiring to create world-class animated films rooted in Chinese culture. Little Door Gods is their first feature film. It was dubbed and reworked as The Guardian Brothers by Weinstein for its worldwide Netflix distribution. The movie is a bit of a mixed bag in either of its iteration. It has a lovely theme and a lot of care went into the design, story and music, but the pacing, tone and character development are a bit inconsistent.
The main issue is the disjointed pacing. There’s a lot of exposition to cover – 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 – but then there are unnecessary characters, like a villain who flies around with a group of Minions knock offs. The movie also jumps to random dance parties and obligatory action scenes, which sometimes feels more ADHD-catering than story-building.
The movie has some great moments in terms of animation and emotion. There’s a touching scene where Rain and Luli participate in a floating lantern ceremony. There’s an even more stunning scene where Bloom and Yu Lei battle with pink flower petals against a backdrop of white snow. There’s another battle scene where Yu Lei makes water levitate. The movie also uses some creative techniques like an opening with puppets and an artful 2D-animated scene.
I particularly like the moment when the mom is inspired to try new ingredients after a couple of magic petals transform her soup. There are no more magic petals, but she comes up with new recipes and manages to delight her costumers even without 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, bringing back the tradition and making it cool again.
Where the character development falters is when it comes to Yu Lei. He becomes fast friends with Rain, but there’s no reason for that to happen beside the fact that he’s a cool and handsome god. Rain has far more reasons to like Shen Tu since he is actually nice and helpful to her family. Maybe it could have been an occasion for Yu Lei to learn from his brother that arrogance and wanting to fight all the time won’t get you any friends, but that being nice and helpful will.
I think the theme of the movie is 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 themes and ambitious visuals, but the script is the weakest point. All in all, I think the original version is the best version, even if it drags in the middle and contains an absurd Halloween dance party and marriage proposal.
- 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.
- A Nian (年兽) is a beast said to have the body of a bull and the head of a lion. It lives under the sea or in the mountains. Every year at the beginning of the Chinese New Year, it comes out of hiding to eat crops and sometimes 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: