Tuesday, August 24, 2021 at 7pm
Wan Laiming's Havoc in Heaven

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Havoc in Heaven, Wan Laiming, 1965, digital projection, 114 mins

A colorful, tripped-out fantasy filled with supernatural beings and lavishly choreographed battles, Havoc in Heaven remains one of the greatest achievements of Chinese animation. Produced by cartoon pioneers the Wan brothers and directed by Wan Laiming at the Shanghai Arts and Film Studio, the work took over a decade to complete and was released in two parts, eventually combined as a single film in 1965. It didn’t remain in circulation very long; Havoc in Heaven was shelved during the Cultural Revolution, and rumors flourished that the film contained anti-Maoist symbolism.

Havoc in Heaven’s story is taken from Journey to the West, the 16th-century novel that has provided source material for countless movies and television series; this particular episode is also a classic of Peking opera, the style of which is inflected throughout Havoc. The Wan brothers themselves had used another story from Journey to the West for their earlier film Princess Iron Fan (1941), the first Chinese animated feature and a major influence on Japanese anime and manga godfather Tezuka Osamu. In Havoc, the rascally Monkey King Sun Wukong, armed with his magical staff, rebels against the celestial Jade Emperor, ultimately claiming for himself the title “Great Sage Equal of Heaven.”

Despite its importance within the history of Asian animation, Havoc in Heaven never received a proper release in many countries, including the US, and home video editions produced over the decades have provided only incomplete versions of varying quality. Indeed, the most recent official Blu-ray mangled the original by altering the aspect ratio, speeding up sequences, and completely replacing the score and voice acting.

Yet the film has had another life: like Havoc’s own monkey army, an online fan network assembled in the aughts to restore the movie to its former glory, drawing from the best available elements while also creating its first set of English subtitles. For our screening at Light Industry, we present this monument of DIY media preservation for all to enjoy.


Box office opens at 6:30pm.