Yunxiang’s life isn’t what you would call “ordinary.”
The young man lives in Donghai, China, a city ruled by an outfit known as the De Clan. By day, Yunxiang races motorcycles and pretends to work for a courier service. By night, he smuggles prohibited goods and tries to usurp the De Clan’s power.
Turns out, De Clan has been hoarding the city’s water supply. In the rich district, the grass and trees are so green that “it looks like every leaf was soaked in water.” On Yunxiang’s side of town, in contrast, people fight over water tokens. And even if you’re lucky enough to scrounge one up, there’s no guarantee the water tanks won’t be empty by the time you get there.
However, things take a turn after Bing, the son of the De Clan’s leader, takes a liking to Yunxiang’s personally modified motorcycle. Because when Bing likes something, he owns it.
But Yunxiang isn’t just going to give up his bike to some spoiled prince. He fights back and awakens within himself the dormant spirit of Nezha, an ancient Chinese fire demon.
Now, for the first time ever, Yunxiang has the power to change things in Donghai. But there’s just one problem: Nezha isn’t a good spirit. In fact, every time he’s been reincarnated, the De Clan has made it a point to put him down before he could wreak havoc.
So Yunxiang will have to overcome not only the entire army of demons at the command of the De Clan, but the demon within himself as well.
Perhaps because of Nezha’s evil spirit, or perhaps because of his own lack of anger management, Yunxiang has a hot temper and frequently threatens people. However, as he learns to control his new powers, he realizes that he needs to stop focusing on revenge and start trying to help the people of Donghai. He sacrifices much to bring back the water supply. And since Nezha can see everything happening through Yunxiang’s eyes, he eventually decides to stop being evil as well and helps Yunxiang stop the De Clan.
Yunxiang’s father has been cold toward his son for years, angry that Yunxiang is a smuggler who is always getting into trouble. However, after witnessing his son save people with his new powers, Yungxiang’s father realizes there is hope after all and forgives him for the past, as well as encouraging him to live a good life from now on.
A woman says she became a doctor to help people. She believes that even though everyone eventually dies, it’s worth it to give those who are sick more time with their loved ones. However, she also admits that some people can’t always be saved by a doctor and encourages Yunxiang to use his powers to help them.
When lives are at risk, people put aside their personal grievances to help one another. Yunxiang’s family takes in Kasha, an orphan, and treats her like part of the family. People are sympathetic to orphaned animals.
We learn about several different deities from Chinese mythology, including the Dragon and Monkey Kings. Each of these “gods,” including Nezha, has powers and can be reincarnated after they die. We see people manipulate fire, water, ice and lightning (sometimes with their respective deity floating behind them). Some people can transform into animals or bring creatures back to life. Others use magical weapons to fight and control people and creatures.
We hear about the “Order of the Gods” that was created after a cosmic battle more than 3,000 years ago. The four ruling clans of China are supposedly descendants of these “gods.” We also hear talk of reincarnation as well. Some people mention a “heaven” as the dwelling place of these deities.
The reincarnated spirit of an ancient hero says he refuses to risk his life to “fix” the world again because every time he fixes it, people mess it up again. However, he still agrees to train Yunxiang to control his powers (rather than kill him as he was paid to do) and is encouraged when he sees that Yunxiang is able to save Donghai.
We also see demonic creatures that resemble animals with supernatural abilities. Some of these creatures are good (noted by their “cuteness”) and others are evil (recognizable by their “ugliness”).
But some, such as the river dragons, aren’t good or evil. They’re simply powerful beings that maintain things like the weather. (When the river dragons are imprisoned, the land is besieged by a drought. When they are released, they unleash a powerful tsunami in their anger. But when they are calmed, they return to the rivers, and it begins to rain gently.)
Several female characters wear revealing outfits that are meant to be seductive. We see the exposed chest of a man.
In a quick shot, we see several women in an alley behind a nightclub who appear to be prostitutes.
We see lots of animated deaths and battles. Yunxiang rips the metal spine out of a dragon (who was actually a transformed human), killing it. A man is killed when shrapnel from an explosion stabs him in the gut. Bing kills a kitten with an icicle. Yunxiang kills several deities and demons with a spear. One man is suffocated with a pillow. Guang (leader of the De Clan and Bing’s father) kills a lion-like creature, and its mate is later crushed by a falling building while saving their pup. Another man is pushed off a cliff to his death after trying to stab a woman.
We learn that Nezha killed for pleasure in a past life and was responsible for the murder of Bing (hence that man’s animosity in this life). Guang wanted revenge for his son’s murder and ordered Nezha’s father to either kill Nezha or else Guang would destroy their entire village. When his father failed, the other gods rallied together to force Nezha to kill himself for his crimes.
We see people use their powers to burn and stab one another. A hospital is bombed with round bug-like creatures that explode like bombs. Yunxiang is attacked by water demons with weapons on his way to an underwater palace. People engage in knife fights and beat each other up. Yunxiang is stabbed with multiple icicles and then kicked by Bing’s goons.
Yunxiang gets into two car chases. In the first one, he and Kasha are thrown from his motorcycle and Kasha’s leg is amputated later in the hospital. In the second, Yunxiang’s brother is injured and hospitalized as well.
We hear several death threats. A man is hit in the groin and falls over. A monkey is supposedly killed several times, exploding into a puff of fur, but he is reincarnated shortly after by his master. Yunxiang stops one character from killing another. A woman pretends to drop to her death but grabs a chain to save herself.
We hear one use each of “p-ss,” “b–tard” and “heck.”
People drink and smoke throughout the film (including cigars). One character chugs a bottle of sake at his father’s funeral.
Yunxiang and the other smugglers only break the law, it is rationalized, to put food on the table for their families. However, when one of their crew members talks about “going straight,” that idea is immediately shot down since they all know they would never make enough money to survive because of the way Donghai is set up to keep the poor poor.
In private, Guang admits to controlling the water supply because “full bellies lead to free thinking.” In order to keep people in their place, he can’t allow those people to get too comfortable.
Yunxiang purposely breaks the pipes of the water reservoir so that the tanks in Donghai overflow and people are able to access free water. However, while his actions were noble, the De Clan then limits the water supply even more while they make “repairs” as a way of punishment.
Someone abandons a newborn kitten. A man kidnaps an infant lion-like creature in order to control its parents. People walk away from knife fights and ignore beggars because they don’t want to be bothered. We see people in the rich district of Donghai throw away half-full water bottles, while people in the poor district are dying of thirst. We hear that people living under the rule of other clans are even worse off than those living under the De Clan. We hear that Yunxiang’s mom got sick and died when he was little. A man betrays his friends for money.
In some ways, New Gods: Nezha Reborn is a lesson in how good can triumph over evil. Despite the fact that he is the reincarnation of an evil deity, Yunxiang is able to use the spirit’s power for good and save his town. He doesn’t like the fate assigned to him, so he fights to change it, proving that we are made by our choices, not by our circumstances.
However, this film’s focus on Eastern spirituality—especially reincarnation—will make it a nonstarter for many Christian viewers. That, plus the gratuitous (albeit animated) violence, a few profane words, lots of smoking and drinking and some hyper-sexualized characters.
As Yunxiang says at the beginning, “Everyone has a role to play”—whether that role is as a father, son, student, teacher, hero or villain. But my role here is to say that skipping New Gods might be a good idea.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.