originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/711348...
Hi everyone! It’s that time of the week.
It’s been a good while since we covered Korean animation - or ‘aeni’, following the ‘anime’/‘donghua’ pattern - on Animation Night!
As you know, Korea has a lot of incredibly talented animators, but despite that the list of Korean animated films is fairly thin on the ground because South Korea is one of the major hotspots for animation outsourcing in the world, along with the Philippines. Nowadays, nearly all ‘American’ 2D animation is storyboarded in the States and then outsourced to South Korea for all the actual animation; occasionally the work gets passed further down the chain and ends up in North Korea as well.
Even so, there certainly are a number of original Korean animated films…
Korean animation was actually one of the first ‘animation from x country’ themes I wrote about on here, back on Animation Night 20. Back then, I talked about the impressive cyberpunk Sky Blue/Wonderful Days and the films of Lee Sung-Gang - the gentle fantasy of My Beautiful Girl Mari and the Miyazakiesque Yobi the Five-Tailed Fox. I also wrote a little about North Korea’s one major animation studio, SEK, and their war drama series Squirrel and Hedgehog. All those films are worth a look!
(A note on Sky Blue - much of the animation team that directed this movie would go on to create the impressive animation of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, American productions which allowed their Korean animators a much larger than usual degree of creative influence. More on them here and here from youtuber ‘The Canipa Effect’.)
Much later, on Animation Night 77 we had a look at one of the films of Yeon Sang-ho’s film Seoul Station, the animated zombie film which preceded his popular live action zombie film Train to Busan. But before he was a zombie guy, Yeon Sang-ho’s preferred mode was dark, violent animated dramas, beginning with The King of Pigs (돼지의 왕 Dwae-ji-ui wang, 2011). Which is one of our subjects for tonight…
Yeon Sang-ho was born at the end of the 70s, and found the ambition to direct animation while at school, collecting a lot of anime with particular inspiration from Miyazaki. He achieved his ambition towards the end of the 90s with short films like The Hell: Two Kinds of Life (지옥 두개 의 삶 Jiok Dugae ui Salm) in which two people are confronted with the afterlife by an angel, and Love Is Protein (사랑은 단백질), in which fast food is unexpectedly delivered by anthropomorphic animals. You can watch ten minutes of The Hell here on Youtube with engsubs, but the quality is kind of terrible! Still, we can see some of the techniques Sang-ho was using at this time - quite a bit of rotoscoping. Love Is Protein is also available on youtube, though sadly sans subtitles.
The King of Pigs sees the adult reunion of an impulsive murderer Kyung-min with his former classmate Jong-suk. In their childhood, the boys were the ‘pigs’ at the bottom of the class hierarchy - but their fortunes changed when a third boy Kim Chul joined the group, who became known as the ‘King of Pigs’. But something happened to him, which Kyung-min now intends to reveal…
Like Yeon Sang-ho’s other animated films, it uses a realist style inspired by Satoshi Kon and the manga of Minoru Furya, mixing traditional animation and cel-shaded CG that pushes against the limit of its tiny budget. Nevertheless, the film was noted for its impactful, uncompromising depictions of pain, cruelty, and class, and brought international attention to Sang-ho, sending him to film festivals and giving him the chance to make more films.
Sang-ho described the film as drawing from real experiences of sitting by and witnessing bullying at his school, and even put himself in the film as a silent background character. He’d continue this approach with his next film, thirty minute The Window, based on his time in mandatory military service; then his next full-length film was The Fake (사이비 Saibi) about a cult leader challenged by a social outcast. We’ll talk more about that one down the line…
Tonight, at about the last minute, I’ve managed to get my hands on a copy of The King of Pigs. This one fits the harsh, violent model of Korean films about class in common with… well, most of what gets internationally popular I suppose, works like those Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho, or Squid Game. So I’m quite looking forward to it.
Then, for a change of pace, we have Ghost Messenger.
This is perhaps aeni at its most anime, stylistically as well as being full of nods to anime from Haruhi to Bakemonogatari - but it’s also about Korean traditions around death and folklore. The project, created by a studio called STUDIO ANIMAL, began as a cancelled phone game, which goes some way to explaining why the narrative centres on a possessed phone! Since then, it evolved through several formats, initially an OVA and then a movie series.
The story concerns psychopomps called Ghost Messengers whose job is to fetch spirits who refuse to go to the world of the dead. One of these guys, Kang Lim ends up imprisoned in a ‘Soul Phone’ used to capture ghosts, and guess what, it ends up in the hands of a hoodie-wearing blue-haired boy with strong psychic powers. But this means Kang Lim and his new companion are well placed to face a new threat manifesting demons and destabilisng the whole thing.
I’m not entirely sure what to expect from Ghost Messenger, but the wiki article is endearingly enthusiastic and it seems like it’s been something of a long-term passion project for its creators. And it’s definitely got some pretty stylish designs coming from that Korean folklore angle.
And for another, very different dimension we have 소중한 날의 꿈, Sojoonghan Nalui Ggoom (2011) which translates literally as Dream of a Precious Day but in English has the slightly odd title Green Days: Dinosaur and I. This coming of age story calls to mind the films of Hosoda, with elaborate traditional animation on paper and a kagenashi look. It sounds like it was a hell of a project, with the production spanning 11 years under the co-direction of Ahn Jae-hoon and Han Hye-jin.
The story follows anxious high school girl Yi-rang, growing up at a gender-segregated school in a small town in the 1970s. She’s struggling with the pressures of life and competition with her peers, socially and in running, intimidated by the pretty and poetic transfer student Soo-min. But then enters a boy called Cheol-soo, an aspiring astronaut, and their awkward first romance begins to change her outlook. It seems to be a largely low-key, slice of life sort of film, with (once again) a realist approach to animation against detailed backgrounds depicting the 70s rural village.
This film seems to have generally flown under the radar, never gaining a large audience nor much international attention. But the Korea Times is full of praise, and it made it to the Annecy shortlist - so let’s give it a look in!
Animation Night 148 will be beginning at twitch.tv/canmom - going live now, films to start in about 20 minutes! The watch order will be Green Days, then King of Pigs and wrapping up with Ghost Messenger - hopefully that will balance the vibes without going out on a huge downer. Hope to see you there!