Moon-saeng Kim’s directorial debut Sky Blue opened in the United States on New Year’s eve, just in time to qualify for the nomination round of 2005's Best Animated Feature Academy Award. It will most likely not be nominated but its series of 1-week engagement across the country will leave a lasting impression on viewers – those that hear of the film and go see it despite the virtual absence of any promos or ads. It is a different kind of film, not exactly anime but greatly influenced by it.
Sky Blue is part sci-fi thriller and part love story set in 2140. The planet’s atmosphere long polluted by mankind has made civilization impossible to thrive and blocked the blue sky from the naked eye. But not the magnificent and organic Ecoban, Earth’s last city, which sustains itself by harnessing energy from carbon compounds via equally magnificent technology. The citizens are privileged, powerful and technocratic. Living beneath them in the wasteland are the Diggers, relatively impoverished but great in numbers. The Diggers are forced to mine for carbon to feed Ecoban and its oppressive rulers. But a rebellion against Ecoban is in the works.
The love story part involves lady Ecoban captain Jay and gentleman Digger Shua, both childhood sweethearts. She chances upon him during his successful breach of Ecoban’s inner security system. A rekindled romance ensues, irking Ecoban security commander Cade whom Jay has been with since Shua’s expulsion from the great city for murder - he was framed. Cade’s Tybalt-like ruthlessness, culminating with shooting Shua’s kid brother Woody, ultimately leads to Jay switching sides.
Sky Blue is a good effort from the fledging Korean animation industry, albeit a patchwork of cel, matte tracing and computer animation. Park uses 3-D computer animation to render Ecoban’s interiors and exteriors, and matte and cel animations for character designs. When they appear together, the differing styles stand conspicuously apart from each other. But overall, the animation work is promising.
Much of the scriptwriting is conventional and shallow. There is marginal effort in exploring Sky Blue’s sci-fi elements. You get some of the details from the opening voice-over narrative and Shua’s Ecoban break-in, while the rest are alluded to throughout the film. Character development and interaction is barely adequate for a movie driven by kinetic action and sci-fi anthropology, but not enough to involve the audience. Many of them, including Cade, bloodthirsty commander Locke, Digger rebels and weasely but comic-relief Moe, look like cardboard cutouts.
The voiceover dubbing in English is at least decent. But the translation sounds like little thought has been put into it. It is overtly cheesy and at times a plot spoiler. You don’t have to try to pay attention to know what is going to happen next. The characters will tell you beforehand. The original Korean dialogue is not available for the film’s limited engagement in the United States, but hopefully will be on DVD.
But Sky Blue’s strongest appeal is its distinction from the common Disney, Dreamworks or Nickelodeon slapsticks. Although it is influenced by anime and western literature (classical and contemporary sci-fi), there is a concerted effort to make it be different without looking recycled. And there are plenty of action sequences to make it an entertaining action film.
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