Director – Dai Tielang – 2010 – China – Cert. N/C U – 76m
Parental Warning: Although this drawn animation has a (completely legitimate) recommended UK U certificate, it contains a lot of gun and knife violence and, in the subtitles, one swear word.
Black Cat Detective and his fellow police protect everyday citizens from nefarious criminal animals including a mouse mastermind – available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th
A purple mole proudly shows the children sacks of supplies stocked in his granary for the coming Winter. Unfortunately, an evil criminal mastermind mouse (backed by music with a stinger cue ripped off the opening of Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) has his eye on these stocks and breaks in with his gang who get drunk on red wine and oil before passing the sacks out of the granary window, which action alerts the mother mole whose attempt at stopping them is thwarted by their throwing enough sax onto her to pin her down.
The cops led by Black Cat Detective turn up to shoot at the mice, one of whom they hit, and arrest the mole children on the premises, quickly realising their mistake and releasing the latter. The police enter the mice’s lair to rescue a vole hostage. When the mice attempt to escape under cover of clouds of flour dust, the Yellow Cat Sergeant adds water to trap them in four-and-water paste. One escapes down into the labyrinthine network via a staircase, but not before the cops have shot off his ear and laughingly named their target One Ear.
The mice also have a thing about red clay, breaking up a residential garden wall (a “fence” in the subtitles) at night to access some. Two rabbits are terrified in their bed at night by giant apparitions outside their house and the next day there are giant footprints. A stakeout at night leads to the cops pursuing an elephant, a hippo and a wild boar.
A peculiar episode involves a female preying mantis who spots One Ear eating the maize in her cornfield whose name is given in the subtitles as “Miss Locust”. A trail leads the cops to a fight between wasps armed with daggers and preying mantises armed with swords. As the cops get involved, one or more of the bugs are set on fire.
After the lady mantis indulges in a night of passion with her lover, in a condo she eats him (as they do) then confesses her crime to the police. The Black Cat Detective lets her off, saying he respects their tradition and suggests praying mantises should receive state support in future so that they won’t have to eat their husbands any more.
One Ear escapes to Africa where his uncle takes him to meet Big Boss Cameron in another network of tunnels and makes a speech about killing all the cats to curious Hammond organ accompaniment on the soundtrack. Black Cat Detective and his cats arrive at a nearby beach, where, upon spotting mouse footprints, utters something to his assistant which is (probably mis-)translated on the soundtrack as, “ah, those bastards!”
Indeed, it turns out that One Ear’s uncle has a secret weapon: deadly fart gas. He invades the police station and kills the Yellow Cat by farting at its face in a prolonged burst. Wearing protective astronaut style glass helmets, the police raid the mouse labyrinth when the mice are having a lecherous, drunken party which turns into a bout of knife-throwing at the cats who retaliate with gunfire against “the terrorists”. A beach shoot out follows, with uncle receiving red bullet holes to the chest and falling into the sea.
The finale has a giant eagle villain abduct children to a high up tree house for a King Kong type showdown involving police helicopters. At one point, the villain steps out of his eagle costume to reveal that he is on fact… an eagle! After it’s all over, Black Cat Detective is feted by a ring of kids and in a closing vignette vows to protect all lives in the forest accompanied by an image of the police moving around in no less than eight tanks.
The film is a feature film re-edit / redub of the long-running, popular, animated Black Cat Detective TV series (Dai Tielang, Fan Madi, Xiong Nanqing, 1984). The result is a surprisingly enjoyable and coherent whole.
A number of characters beside Black Cat Detective and the other cops are clearly series regulars – see the mobile phone commercial below. Singapore-born director Dai Tielang worked on both the original series and this feature as well as the subsequent feature Black Cat Detective – Green Star (2015).
From its opening, the influence of anime and in particular Osamu Tezuka on the 2010 feature is obvious. Fighting characters appear with diagonal line backgrounds behind them in frozen, kinetic, battle-joining poses; characters pose with legs positioned or repositioned reminiscent of Astro Boy standing.
There are other aesthetic sensibilities at work here too, as evidenced in the unusual design of a non-symmetrical police station building. Clever sight gags include a mouse’s head filling up with red as he drinks wine and a striking flour dust effect made by what looks like chalk or the side of a flat crayon stick applied onto cel, although it may well have been executed on a computer.
To Western viewers, the level of violence in a children’s franchise is disturbing, to say the least. We’ve seen characters with guns, but in Western children’s series the bullets never hit anyone , never kill anyone and certainly don’t leave red holes on shot victims. Soporific music of the kind often found in TV animation aimed at children accompanies the image of the Black Cat Detective beating up naughty mice criminals with his truncheon. Coupled with the closing image of police tanks, the film seems to condone police brutality provided that those maimed or killed are criminals and there’s certainly no suggestion here that the police might accidentally maim or kill an innocent person.
So too with showing characters getting drunk at a party, and a male mouse all over a female of whom she says – and one suspects something got lost in the subtitle translation – “they like me a lot. He even treated me as a secretary.” Clearly, there are a lot of differences between Chinese and Western mindsets.
The animation itself is highly distinctive and a pleasure to watch.
Black Cat Detective is available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 from Friday, February 12th to Sunday, February 28th.
Not exactly the trailer: all the most violent parts of the 1984 show Black Cat Detective – many of which appear in the feature – played with the theme song:
Tencent mobile phone ad featuring many of the series’ characters:
Game studio revives Black Cat Detective – China Beat – September 16, 2014 – BONTV China
Free to watch: The History of Shanghai Animation Film Studio