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On the White Planet
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Jay Seaver

"Only kind of what it sounds like."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Hur Bum-wook's movie is told primarily in white with some gray and black highlights, but it's dark as all hell, positing a world not just where the one kid who is the only person or even thing on Earth of a non-ashen hue has already become a hardened killer by the time the film starts as he's hunted for being different, but where the whole world seems to have devolved into violence and chaos. The whole movie is populated by monsters, right down to the pedophile rapist who is part of the group he falls in with. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's got a rage one can't help but admire.

The audience learns the specifics piecemeal as the film goes on, but things are pretty simple: On a planet that looks like Earth from space but where everything is some shade of pale, one (apparently nameless) kid has what we would consider normal flesh tones, and is hunted by everyone for it, from roving backs of children his own age to agents of the government. He's a survivor, but his mind is so twisted toward violence that when he's taken in by another wanderer called "Boss", it's pretty easy for this guy to exploit him and other children for his own ends; Boss has a plan that relies on the nameless anti-hero killing a lot of people.

It's kind of too much, numbing despite the fact that one of the two impressive sequences the film opens with is horrific in its brutality. That bit where the kid kills someone and then smears the white blood on his face manages to encapsulate an idea - this kid is willing to go to monstrous lengths to fit in because he sees no other choice and knows nothing but violence. The sixty-odd minutes after that seems more like restatement than development, despite the fact that there is a story there, albeit one that eventually kind of dead-ends.

That story does have some bits in it that are thrilling or intriguing for more than the unusual color palette or the harshness of the violence; though a young filmmaker, Hur already stages an action scene like a pro. The first big one, with government agents trying to flush the kid out of well-prepared hiding places feels like an assured bit of live action, and as the scenes get bigger and more fantastical, he still manages to keep a handle on what's going on within a scene. He and the voice cast also deliver in the smaller scenes, never deviating from the nightmarish atmosphere for (mostly) good or ill. Hur could, perhaps,use some more practice in pacing things out for a feature-length project; the individual moments get a bit swamped in connecting bits that often aren't all that interesting.

Amazing-looking film, though. Hur makes all of the characters suitably harsh, and kind of simplistic in design, but easily distinguished. It's the backgrounds that really pop: Thick black lines like you seldom see in animation, stark borders rather than shading, techniques mostly used in very flat media that nevertheless give the world enough three dimensionality to have a far-off horizon. It reminds me more of American comic artists like Charles Burns than Korean comics and animation at times, especially when the narrative cuts away to still, comic-style story of a man trapped in a labyrinth, being watched by spectators.

One aside: The kid is generally referred to as "colored" in the subtitles, versus "white", and I wonder how loaded that phrasing is in Korean and much thought Hur or the translator gave to the reactions that language would provoke in places where those words have some history. There's really no better way of phrasing it, and it actually plays into what the movie is saying about persecuting those that are different, but it's got an extra jolt, and I'm curious how much that was intended.

Whether that particular reaction was intended or not, "On the White Planet" is something fans of provocative animation will likely want to seek out, although I can't rightly say I'd want to see it a second time for reasons beyond being squeamish. I do look forward to seeing what Hur Bum-wook comes up with next; he's got impressive skills and a strong voice that should only get more interesting with time and practice.

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originally posted: 08/25/15 11:51:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Bum-wook Hur

Written by
  Bum-wook Hur

  Bum-ki Hong
  Chong-Hwan Son
  Min-su Cho
  Yoon-sun Seo

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