China's beloved fictional mice heroes get first film

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, December 28, 2023
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Shuke and Beita, two iconic mice heroes created by China's "King of Fairy Tales," Zheng Yuanjie, are appearing in their first film, "Shuke and Beita: Pentagon-shaped Flying Saucer," released in theaters on Dec. 30.

Writer Zheng Yuanjie, his granddaughter Zheng Zai, who contributes her voice to the film, and Zheng Yaqi, the film's director, speak with the audience at the premiere of "Shuke and Beita: Pentagon-shaped Flying Saucer," in Beijing, Dec. 23, 2023. [Photo courtesy of Today Pictures]

Zheng Yaqi is the film's director and also the son of writer Zheng. He still remembers helping his father add the page numbers to the manuscript of "The Adventures of Shuke and Beita" when he was very young. He was curious and asked his father what he was writing. Zheng Yuanjie then shared the story with him.

"I felt at that time, this is an amazing story," Zheng Yaqi told China.org.cn. "But my father's works have always had a great charm. As someone put it, children will laugh and adults will cry over his stories. The same is true for 'The Adventures of Shuke and Beita.' I directed five seasons of the animated series, and during the making of the series and the film, I constantly went back to read the original book. Every time I read it, I find inspiration and something different."

But Zheng Yuanjie has not always been in favor of his stories being adapted. In the 1990s, he publicly stated that he didn't want anyone to adapt, change, or, in his own words, "dismember" his works. Interestingly, this came after a successful 13-episode animated series adaptation in 1989 produced by Shanghai Animation Film Studio, which has become a much-cherished classic. In fact, decades later when Zheng Yuanjie first learned that his son was interested in creating a new TV series based on the characters, he was upset.

"My father has no interest in comic books or cartoons, but he let me see these things from all over the world since I was a child. Sometimes I felt that his works were as good as, or even better than what I saw. So, why don't we adapt them?" Zheng Yaqi recalled. However, when looking for a suitable director for the first "Shuke and Beita" series, and after discussions with some foreign animators, Zheng Yaqi decided to take on the task himself.

Zheng Yaqi, 40, is a self-taught director who also runs the company that oversees his father's extensive catalog consisting of more than 700 stories. Before establishing the company in 2012 to promote his father's book sales and develop various commercial ventures such as film, TV, stage plays, digital publications, audio books and merchandise, his upbringing was rather unconventional. When Zheng Yaqi completed primary school, his father made the decision to homeschool him instead of sending him to middle school or university, even writing a 200,000-word textbook for him.

"I'm very adept at teaching myself," the director said. "My father has always believed that a good education is one that allows a child to find joy in the learning process. I find immense happiness in learning things and acquiring skills on my own, and I have an insatiable desire to explore the unknown realms of the world."

Another advantage of directing the film himself, he said with a smile, is the money it saves the company. The results have been incredibly rewarding, with the TV series reboot receiving a high score of 8.4/10 on popular review site Douban, as well as numerous awards and 4.5 billion online views. This gave confidence to both Zheng Yaqi and Zheng Yuanjie. 

A poster for "Shuke and Beita: Pentagon-shaped Flying Saucer." [Image courtesy of Maoyan Entertainment]

"Eventually, I felt that I can now accept the adaptations. These films and TV series will directly impact children and it is good for my work to have a wider influence and reach," 68-year-old Zheng Yuanjie said. He added that he wrote the story of Shuke the mouse in 1982, followed by Beita in early 1983. "The duo meet each other in a story I wrote on Dec. 30, 1983. It's been 40 years since then, so the film's release date this year coincides with their 40th anniversary. I have watched the film, and I'm really happy with it."

The novel "The Adventures of Shuke and Beita," which consists of 366 chapters, is the longest work by Zheng Yuanjie. The new film focuses on the part of the original story when Shuke and Beita are piloting a new high-tech vehicle on a mission across space and time: a pentagon-shaped flying saucer. This idea originated from Zheng Yaqi's suggestion to his father decades ago when he became tired of seeing the two mice driving their usual toy plane and tank. Since Zheng didn't want to write something that had already been done in sci-fi stories, his son proposed other shapes, which eventually led to the pentagon. "Making this film, we had this history back then," Zheng Yaqi said.

The director expressed his hope that parents would take their children to the movie theater to watch the film. He reminisced about the wonderful times he had as a child watching movies with his own father. Now, he hopes that parents and children "can experience the joy of watching a film based on a Chinese domestic franchise that has influenced generations. That would create a truly special and joyful family bonding experience."

Contented to let his son develop his vast back catalog, Zheng Yuanjie has turned his attention elsewhere. This May, his 92-year-old father was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, since which the prolific writer has been immersed in studying colostomy and developing related equipment and technology, particularly for lower-income families. "I'm obsessed with it. I am preparing to apply for patents and trademarks, and all the proceeds I earn from my patents in the future will be donated," he said. "Additionally, I will write to educate more people on how to prevent intestinal cancer. This is what I will dedicate the rest of my life to."

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