Two old friends, Nam-woo and Jun-ho, meet after work to reminisce about the past. They grew up in the same hometown and became close friends, but were forced to separate when Jun-Ho's family moved to Seoul. "My Beautiful Girl, Mari" is a retrospective of the final days of their boyhood- which is punctuated by the surprising discovery of a completely new and beautiful otherworld.
The main problem with "My Beautiful Girl, Mari" is that its characters are too redundant. Nam-woo feels anxious about changing relationships with friends and family, including Jun-ho, a classmate who is moving away. Meanwhile, Jun-ho feels apprehensive about a girl classmate, Soo-gi, with whom he has a sort of love-hate relationship, In a better scripted movie the various character traits concentrated among these three characters would be better defined and distributed among just two. As written, all of their various subplots feel half-baked and have little real resolution. Indeed, Soo-gi is separated by two whole degrees from Nam-woo, and as this movie is at least nominally Nam-woo's story, she feels artifically wedged into the plot.
Similarly, as beautiful as the animation and sound are, they can't hide the fact that the dream-like otherworld sequences have almost nothing to do with anything else in the story, metaphorically or otherwise. Mari herself is appropriately engimatic and we get a good sense of who she is. Unfortunately, this is, again, Nam-woo's story, and his interactions with her don't really tell us anything about his character. Remove all the otherworld sequences, and nothing is really lost in the storytelling.
Because of all this, I can't recommend "My Beautiful Girl, Mari" on its own merits. It's too much of a mixed bag. However, it's still worth discussing if only because of its otherworld sequences. The mystical elements of this movie are treated with a beautiful gravity, and I was especially impressed at how well the melodious music was integrated with powerful visuals. The worldbuilding is lovely, and the otherworld tantalizes the viewer with every movement. Even the setpieces in the real world exist in the same beautiful framework. It's an admirable dichotomy, and director Lee Seong-gang does a great of helping us see the beauty in both mundane and fantastic animated environments.
What "My Beautiful Girl, Mari" fully understands about the beauty of new, alien worlds, is that there's no clearly charted path or motivation that defines its residents. Rather, they just live their normal, everyday lives in a normal everyday manner. What comes to our ears as beauteous lyrical music, to them, is just a typical day. The audience feels engrossed and fascinated in these fluid moments. We never really understand Mari, but we can appreciate her, and that's close enough.
Ultimately what makes this film a disappointment is that the elements are clearly there to create an effective coming-of-age story, using the device of the otherworld as a vehicle to help Nam-woo understand that he will traverse many new worlds, and that in turn the bonds he makes in these new worlds will carry on even as he himself is ultimately separated from them. Unfortunately the actual story is too muddled to do anything this interesting, so "My Beautiful Girl, Mari" will likely remain just an intriguing piece of effective reciprocal animation and sound design.
Review by William Schwartz
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Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "My Beautiful Girl, Mari""
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