Classic Chinese Red Army Propaganda Film Reborn as Animated Film

Known by their red-star caps and drab uniforms, Communist China's founding revolutionaries are getting a makeover with a hip-looking animated film based on a classic propaganda movie from the 1970s.

"Sparkling Red Star" is about a young boy who helps the Red Army fight an evil landlord who has taken over their village.

It was released in China on Oct. 1 and debuts in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong on Thursday.

The mainly hand-drawn 84-minute animation, whose smoothly rendered characters resemble the work of famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, is a collaboration between the Chinese People's Liberation Army's Bayi film studio and a mainland animation company.

The more than $2 million cartoon is the brainchild of Hong Kong businessman Chin Yiu-tong, chairman of Puzzle Animation Studio, based in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, publicist Zevia Tong said.

Tong said Chin wanted to "do something for Chinese animation."

China's film industry is booming but it is not known for its cartoons. Chinese regulators banned foreign cartoons from prime time TV last year to protect struggling local animation studios.

Foreign cartoons, especially from Japan, are hugely popular with China's 250 million children.

Tong said filmmakers watered down the "revolutionary" flavor of the film, based on a 1974 action movie by the same name, and stressed family and friendship instead. The Hong Kong female pop duo Twins will lend their voices to the Cantonese sound track.

Although the film's characters are drawn like hip teenagers from Japanese anime, they retain the Red Army's red-star caps and drab uniforms and the plot still carries heavy propaganda overtones.

The story features young Pan Dongzi, whose father joins the Red Army's Long March — its legendary retreat into China's hinterland during civil war against the ruling Nationalists — leaving his son to battle evil landowner Hu Hansan, who takes over the village and sends the younger Pan fleeing.

Pan's mother dies as a martyr when the Red Army tries to retake the village.

A statement on the movie's official Web site said it adds "modern theatrical elements" while retaining the movie's "mainstream red flavor."

It's unclear if modern Chinese children who are well-versed in American pop culture will appreciate "Sparkling Red Star" amid a selection of both Hollywood and homemade Chinese commercial blockbusters.

Publicist Tong said the film has made just $670,000 as of last week in China since its Oct. 1 opening. A Chinese box office hit can make millions of U.S. dollars.

It also remains to be seen how the film will be received in Hong Kong, where locals still have memories of the Chinese army's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters around Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989.