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Overall Rating

Awesome: 4.76%
Worth A Look: 33.33%
Pretty Bad: 4.76%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Sky Blue
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by Jay Seaver

"Is Korea the new Japan? Not yet."
3 stars

As Japanese animation became more prominent in American pop-culture during the nineties, people stopped making jokes about it, but the jokes didn't go away; they instead began referring to Korean production houses. The logical next step would be for Korea to start producing some impressive work, becoming the new Japan and deflecting all the jokes onto some other country (the Philippenes, perhaps). Sky Blue was a major undertaking for everyone involved, and it's an admirable effort, but if this is the Korean animation's big showcase piece, then they're still lagging a bit behind.

The characters in Sky Blue are animated using cels, but like almost every recent traditionally-animated movie, there is extensive use of digital animation as well - mostly for mechanical devices and environments (interestingly, the credits also indicate that miniatures and matte paintings were used as well). Mixing the two is always tricky, and it is a severe issue here. It is from the very first scene, where a nicely-rendered enclosed motorcycle zooms down a road while we hear some exposition. The first time we get a shot that includes the occupant, though, we see that the hand-drawn components are extremely static compared to the digial ones - and that's before we see a scene with both in motion. Then, it seems that even in scenes where a CGI vehicle has been animated on ones (24fps), the people have been animated on twos or even threes (8-12fps). It's jarring to see some elements move so much more smoothly than the others. Other areas could use improvement, too, such as when being up to one's waist in water doesn't show a character moving across a room down any.

The story is pretty standard stuff - we wrecked the planet's ecology, there's one gigantic city (the Ecoban) remaining, and a deep schism between the haves and have-nots. When one of the latter breaks into the city's computer core, one of the intercepting security officers recognizes Shua as a childhood friend and her first kiss. He turns out to be working for "Dr. Noah", who believes releasing the Ecoban's energy will do the world a load of good. The security officer, Jay, is appalled by some of the brutality she witnesses from her colleagues, and she's unaware of the secret her supervisor (and lover?) is keeping from her. The movie's most clever conceit, that the Ecoban is a massive genetically-engineered organism, never really comes into play.

Or at least, it doesn't come into play in the English-language version screened at the Landmark Kendall Square. There's a scale of how much you can expect the American whoever gets the US rights to a foreign film to tweak it, and "animated", "sci-fi", "Korean", and "unknown filmmakers" all tend to push that measurement (whether it be of probability or amount) higher. So, it's dubbed into English. The running time is noticeably shorter than the ninety minutes listed on the IMDB. There are credits for "additional music" with European names. Which means that, for all I know, the flatly-acted, bland dialogue is not a problem if this film is seen in its native form, but is introduced by Park Sunmin and the other American producers to make it more palatable for an American audience. Or that a subplot where it's explained that white-haired Kade is Jay's boyfriend rather than her father was excised. Or that the sci-fi themes unique to Sky Blue were expanded upon. I was able to extrapolate a story that tied everything together (the "energy release" is the original purpose of the Ecoban, but its residents grew lazy and corrupt and chose to preserve the status quo and their own comfort), but I've got no idea if either it or what was left after the editing truly reflects the vergin film.

It's frustrating to see this happen, because it's not very often that the modifications for an American audience are anything but annoying. I'm not sure how much Megamedia paid its English voice-actors, but it can't be a whole lot - several voice multiple characters, David McNaughton is the closest thing to a recognizable name, and the voice-work is pretty crummy all around. Subtitles would have cost even less, though, and you've got to figure that this is enough of a niche film that it wouldn't have seriously impacted the box office. Similarly, it's also pretty clear that no good came of cutting five to ten minutes from the picture, so why bother, especially when it still winds up playing 4-5 shows a day rather than 5-6?

On the plus side, there are some slick action scenes and some keen visuals. In particular, the Ecoban itself is a sight worth seeing; I believe it was shot with miniatures and matte paintings rather than CGI - it's rounded and better-shaded than the foreground objects, but not active like the city in Appleseed. It's organic nature is more apparent from the outside than the inside, but its scale isn't always readily apparent. There are some very cool vehicle designs, like Shua's jet glider and some hover-cycles that recall the scooters that the droids rode in The Phantom Menace, and good use of animation to show weightlessness/free-fall at the climax. The final battle makes up for a lot of weak writing/editing/voice-acting earlier in the movie; even an annoying thug character gets a chance to impress.

The character designs are pretty nice, too. I was reminded of 2001's Metropolis, not in terms of the actual design (the characters are sleek, as opposed to Tezuka's rounded shapes), but in how some faces are much more caricatured than others, but they still seem to occupy the same world. With one exception, the characters are all distinct - although two of the female characters look quite similar, one isn't very important - without any looking inhuman, or like he belongs in another movie.

Overall, I'm inclined to be generous to Sky Blue - it got changed on its way to me, and as an animation fan I'm glad to see cel-work and new voices. Someday I may see the Korean version and knock it up/down a peg or two, but in the meantime, I'll say this: It's promising, reasonably entertaining, and I hope the people involved have a chance to improve with their sophomore effort.

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originally posted: 01/21/05 12:24:06
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2004 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Leeds Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Leeds Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/05/05 Tracy J Connor A visually stunning film that was done in true anime story type 5 stars
4/26/04 stenobabe better than almost all anime I've seen, good plot, moves, see it in a big theater 4 stars
2/04/04 hongson viet 2 stars
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  18-Feb-2005 (NR)



Directed by
  Moon-Sang Kim
  Sunmin Park

Written by
  Moon-Sang Kim
  Jun-Young Park
  Sunmin Park
  Jeffrey Winter


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