The Guardian Brothers

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Release date: September 01, 2017
Directed by: Gary Wang, Paulette Victor-Lifton
Written by: Dan Edelstein, Terrence Stone, Gary Wang
Produced by: Zhou Yu
Running time: 90 minutes

Yu Lei and Shen Tu, ancient Han Chinese door gods, have for many years guarded almost nothing instead. Only one door remains under their protection. The brothers are on the brink of being downsized by the Spirit World's new management. They are, along with all the gods, seen as irrelevant by the humans who once traded worship for their protective presence at each set of double entrance doors. Yu Lei, upon hearing of the true reason the humans have forgotten the gods, swears to release the shapeshifting Nian from the three seals it was imprisoned within long ago. Shen Tu, left behind in his brother's fury, sets out to stop him.

Meryl Streep (The Narrator), Dan Fogler (Shen Tu), Edward Norton (Yu Lei), Mel Brooks (Rogman), Nicole Kidman (Luli), Bella Thorne (Raindrop), Cristina Pucelli (Bloom), Mike Birbiglia (The Health Inspector)

Without any advance publicity or notice, The Weinstein Company quietly slipped the Chinese animated feature The Guardian Brothers onto Netflix last Friday. It was originally released on January 1, 2016, in China as Little Door Gods, marking the debut production of Beijing’s Light Chaser Animation. The ambitious production aimed to lift the quality of Chinese cg animation and push it closer to Western standards. Light Chaser owner Gary Wang, the Chinese web entrepreneur who made his fortune by creating the video sharing site Tudou, wrote and directed the film. Weinstein’s English version added a cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Edward Norton, Mel Brooks, Dan Fogler, Mike Birbiglia, Bella Thorne, and Randall Park. The English dub is also heavily edited, running 86 minutes compared to over 100 minutes for the original (conflicting online sources put the original running time at either 103 or 107 minutes). Having seen a subbed-version of the original, I can confirm that it had a lot of pacing issues and needed editing, though it’s hard to say whether the Weinstein version fixes the issues with the original. Rooted in the traditions of Chinese folklore, Guardian Brothers follows two guardian spirits – Yu Lei (Norton) and Shen Tu (Fogler) – who venture out of spirit-world retirement to help a mother and daughter whose restaurant is being sabotaged by a competitor.

The Weinstein Company released Guardian Brothers through its new kids’ label Mizchief. It also has another animated film, Leap!, currently in U.S. theaters through the label. The Guardian Brothers was animated by a predominantly Chinese crew, but a few of the lead artists had U.S. experience, including Colin Brady (Pixar, Pixomondo) and Han Lei (DreamWorks). Light Chaser is currently working on its second feature, Tea Pets. Netflix has made the film available in a total of 20 countries, including Australia, Canada, Mexico, U.K., New Zealand, India, Philippines, and Russia.