Chinese Characters Live in “More Than Just a Square”

One of our BAICFF 2020 shorts programs, The Power of Knowledge, is a celebration of learning. It includes the film More Than Just a Square, which explains some of the pictographic roots of Chinese hanzi, or written characters, and demonstrates how they evolved from specific drawings into the more stylized forms used today. The work reminds us that by understanding the origins and development of these characters, it also serves as a way to memorize their meanings.

More Than Just a Square Trailer

Appropriately, filmmaker Chingyu Yang utilizes animated calligraphy to tell the story, and a person-shaped written character, Hannah, is the viewer’s animated guide.

Chinese calligraphy is not only a writing system, but at its most carefully rendered is also considered an art form, as producing beautiful characters using a traditional writing brush with ink takes both skill and many years of training. Brush painting is central both to Chinese calligraphy and watercolor art. It is little wonder, then, that Chinese animators incorporated these painting techniques into children’s films, making the very first brush-painted animated film in 1960, Little Tadpoles Looking for Their Mother.

Little Tadpoles Looking for Their Mother

The result is a gorgeously-realized film with an aesthetic that is uniquely Chinese. You don’t need to understand the language to appreciate the tale, which follows the well-worn path of many a children’s storybook, as newly-hatched tadpoles embark on a quest to find their mother. Along the way they encounter a variety of underwater creatures whom they wrongly and enthusiastically assume to be their parent, until they finally locate Mama Frog at the end.

With its own animated brush strokes, More Than Just a Square builds on a technique central to the history of Chinese animation, which brings its language and art to life.

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