Sky Blue, the slightly (around 2 minutes) cut and dubbed version of the South Korean animated feature Wonderful Days, hit international shores a couple of years after its 2003 debut in its homeland. A somewhat groundbreaking release, featuring photo-realistic CGI-rendered backgrounds and traditional cel-animated characters, director Kim Moon-saeng’s first and, to date, only outing feature film (Kim is better known as a director of commercials) attempts to weave a futuristic high-octane adventure with commentary on pollution, class struggle, and environmental issues. With The Simpsons (whose production moved to South Korea in the show’s early days) being the best known work of Korean animation, how well does the distinct origins of Sky Blue hold up for international tastes ?
Set in 2142, Sky Blue introduces the viewer to an advanced dystopia called Ecoban, built to harvest energy from pollution, used to generate power for the city. On two separate sides of the track we have Shua, a carbonate extraction worker, Jay, an Ecoban security officer, and her superior, Cade. When a terrorist plot brings them all together, past heartbreak and present conflict comes along as well.
Rebellions, unknown lands, fallen civilizations ? Slight cinematic deja vu ? Well, Sky Blue does not boast a completely original storyline, but backed with the unique visuals, frequent action set-pieces, and an uber-cool set-up of a rainy, cold future at least we’re on the right track. In regards to the visuals themselves, the mixture of photo-realistic backdrops, CGI-visuals and traditional cel-animated characters who inhabit them can often be jarring, especially in high-movement, high-energy scenes. Common, small objects are often processed with CGI which, at times, seems unnecessary. The film does have a distinct look – the combination of different animation techniques is definitely a feat to praise – but whether it’s to a viewer’s tastes will be completely down to the individual.
The presence of voice artists who have mostly worked in children’s television can’t help but give the film a small-screen film feel. Marc Worden as Shua gives a hopelessly subdued, monotone tough-guy performance which verges on unintentionally comical in most dialogue exchanges with other characters. Cathy Cavadini is fine, in no less than three roles, but again the voice work doesn’t rise above anything on offer in a Saturday-morning cartoon. Sadly, at times, characters and their motivations feel shoe-horned in and the story, which seems to want to present intelligent social commentary, fails in its unwillingness to go into any depth about it’ world or characters apart from mere surface observations and heavy-handed expositions. The plot seems a tiny fragment of a much bigger picture.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is mostly well-suited; beautiful acoustic arrangements and operatic passages tangle with some high-energy electronic pieces (no less, a small riff from The Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” is given a re-working) which, overall, produce a somewhat muddled thematic pallet for the film to play in. Each track, however, is well-suited to its accompanying scenes.
Peppered with striking visuals, backed with its quick-to-please CGI visuals and kid’s TV favourites on voice duties, Sky Blue can not shake the feeling of a production aimed at children’s sensibilities. Packing stereotypical characters, heavy-handed emotion and CG glitz, the film works on the most very basic levels and unfortunately dumps any depth in favour of a visual treat for the easily entertained. In its original Korean, is it a better movie? Possibly. On mere guesswork, the Korean voice track may be more appropriate, but does the loss of two minutes footage make it a completely different film? My guess is no, but as for the film in its international Sky Blue form, it lacks the class and distinction to roll with any of its Japanese cousins.
Tom Kent-Williams is a writer, reviewer and co-host at the Podcast On Fire Network currently residing in Birmingham, England. He has been in love with Asian cinema since seeing Akira for the first time and has a slight man-crush on Chow Yun-fat. Hong Kong cinema floats his boat big time, along with synthpop, classic gaming and cups of tea in large mugs.