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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Yobi, The Five Tailed Fox": Magic, Myths, and Mites

2014/08/02 | 602 views | Permalink

In the Spotlight this Week: Lee Seong-gang's "Yobi, The Five Tailed Fox"...

The nine-tailed fox is a common figure in Chinese ("Huli jing"), Japanese ("Kitsune"), and Korean ("Gumiho") cultural myths. Throughout the ages each nation has transmitted its own origin story for this mischievous, shape-shifting, soulless sneak who begets misfortune and summons sadness. But in Lee Seong-gang's 2007 animated version of the myth, that fearful track record is straight straight by an adolescent (five-tailed) fox figure named "Yobi".

In the forest that surrounds a summer camp for young misfits lives a special little fox named "Yobi". She's young, about five-tails old, and lives within the dense greenery with a curious cacophony of ship-wreaked aliens. The interstellar invaders crash-landed on Earth a hundred years ago, and are still 'busy' preparing their stereotypical ship to return home. In their spare time, this group of temporary immigrants scare the children at the summer camp and, in general, gossips about the silly humans and giggle at their stupidly strange ways. Yobi, on the hand, is more intrigued with them than her alien housemates, and ofter transforms into a young girl even when she's in the comfort of her own home.

After a fantastic failure to launch, the alien group scold the youngest of them for messing things up. Upset and feeling attacked, this bruised baby critter runs away to the human's summer camp, where it's claimed by the youngest little girl there (after being wrongly mistaken as some species of beaver by the camp master). After a failed, and rather un-welcomed, rescue, Yobi decides to go undercover at the camp. She transforms herself once more into a young girl and, with the help of her very seductive mother/'adult' form, gets admitted and joins the other kids at camp. She likes it, and while she doesn't have full control over her body's tendency to revert back for her foxy form (a purely adolescent blemish that almost gets her made on various occasions), she does excel at everything the camp offers (i.e. gym sessions and lunch). The crisis for Yobi arrives when a tenacious hunter and his pack of dogs want to snuffed her soul out (being the evil incarnate that she is). Yobi also has the new challenge of dealing with the boy she befriends, and finds herself eternally empathizing with a human for the first time.

There is a lot going on in Lee's daring animation, and while the film is at times stunningly composed and narratively dynamic, there are a herd of elephants in the film that simply cannot be ignored. You may have been wondering, from the above set-up description, what happened to the aliens? In fact, why are there aliens at all? The film is smothered in magic realism mythical informed, and to complicate matters with static interstellar invaders is immediately a heap too sweet. Animated mythological fantasy-yes please, but hold the obtuse science-fiction figures and their meaningless mission home. Yobi's tale alone was enough to stir the heart, herald hope, summon a smile, chuckle over, cheer for and cherish. This obnoxious red-herring aside, "Yobi" is at its core and courageous and cunning film that really should have be polished to fly with the likes of "Leafie, A Hen Into The Wild".

Although "Yobi" is far from fat-free, there is plenty of quality woven throughout for it to come highly recommended. Once Yobi finds herself as the outsider-within the story takes on a life of its own and the real magic is then mustered. From Yobi morphing into a sexy single mom, to a timely Jungian shadow that comes to mix things up, "Yobi" tries, and largely succeeds, at being a complex creation with plenty of depth and dazzle. The first quarter of the film is 'alien-heavy' and comes with very stagey compositions that begged for cuts and more camerabatics. However Lee seemed to magically mature as mise-en-scene master as the film progressed, and soon the camera and compositions became stunning and surreal. The animators also seemed to up their games as time passed, and suddenly the story became more cinematic, more inviting, and the story ebbed and flowed all the way to its fittingly fantastic finale.

"Yobi, The Five Tailed Fox" surprised me, and I was almost too quick pronouncing it dead before this foxy gem really started to shine. It managed to attract less than 500K moviegoers back in 2007; a real shame because "Yobi, The Five Tailed Fox" is an energetic effort worth suffering through that early probe.


- C.J. Wheeler (chriscjw@gmail.com@KoreaOnTheCouch)

 

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