"The Crimson Whale" is a product of the Korean Academy of Film Arts' Advanced Program. The prestigious school sees the worth in encouraging South Korea's potential-packed animation industry.
The story takes place in 2070, where constant earthquakes and volcanic activity shutter the Earth, with the Korean peninsula being the one that has been hit the most. In the dystopian setting of an almost completely destroyed Busan, Ha-jin, an orphan girl, tries to survive by stealing and selling drugs. Eventually, her crimes lead her to prison, since the police seems to be the only institution still functioning. However, corruption is at large and soon Ha-jin finds herself in the hands of human traffickers. As she tries to escape, a one-armed woman named Baek Sang-won rescues her, who proves to be the leader of a band of pirates. Their goal is to reach some precious crystals in a volcanic island, which is defended though, by a legendary volcano whale. Baek seems to know Ha-jin's secret, that she can actually communicate and summon whales, and needs her for her plans. The girl is initially reluctant, but as she meets the members of the crew, she starts to make friends among them, and eventually becomes a member of their " family ", additionally agreeing to help them in their goal.
Park Hye-mi creates a hopeless world in a distinct dystopian setting, where violence (occasionally quite graphically depicted), inhumanity, unlawfulness and despair are the main forces guiding the actions of humans. Ha-jin is a product of this world, which has made her very tough, but her actual nature is revealed when she becomes friends with the pirates and finally lets go, as exemplified in the scene where Sang-won fixes her hair, finally making her look like an actual girl. Hope is presented in the form of an island, in a clear metaphor that states that the road to happiness is always difficult, "guarded" by huge difficulties, in this case symbolized by the monster-whale. The film also includes a harsh ecologic message that shows that the planet has reacted to the abuse of humans in the worst possible way.
The pace is relatively slow, although the events follow one another, but the film finds its apogee in the ending sequence, with the fight with the whale being the most impressive in the movie, in the most dramatic way. The same applies to the technical department, which finds its apogee in the completely red setting of the inside of the volcano.
I felt that the drawing had some issues, particularly regarding the humans, although I found the Toulouse-Lautrec style of Ha-jin's sketch quite enjoyable. The background on the other hand is quite good, showing much detail, as it exemplifies the dystopian setting of the story. The scenes with the crumbling buildings highlight the effort done in the animation, as is the case with the movement of the giant whale.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[Guest Film Review] "The Crimson Whale""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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