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My Beautiful Girl, Mari

Nam Woo and his beautiful girl, Mari.
Year: 2002
Director: Lee Sung-kang  
Cast: Ahn Sung-ki, Lee Byung-heon, Bae Jong-ok, Jang Hang-sun, Na Moon-hee, Kong Hyung-jin
The Skinny: This might be the Akira that Korean Animation has been trying to make for years. That is, they've been trying to make a film that is able to bring interest to an industry which is underappreciated and tremendously talented. My Beautiful Girl, Mari has a style of its own, even if it does borrow certain things from anime and even some unlikely sources (Wolfgang Petersen's The Perfect Storm, for example). Still, the nostalgic feeling that the film generates is undeniably Korean, which makes Lee Sung-kang's first major feature a success.
by LunaSea:
     When people talk about animation, two types come instantly to mind: Walt Disney and Japanese Animation (anime). Both have a devoted fan base ready to sing the praises of one and criticize the other. One animation industry which has always been underappreciated is the one from Korea. Many people don't know that a good deal of Japanese and American productions feature Korean talent (recent examples are Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away, and the hit TV series The Simpsons). Subcontracting allows Korean animators to make a living in Japan and America since there has historically been very little work in their homeland. As a result, the technical skill of the industry's talent is often as high as talent from Japan and America. The only difference is funding for local projects, but that might change too in the not-too-distant future.
     Korean animation can be traced back to the late sixties, when the Shin brothers created Hong Kil-dong, considered to be the first of its kind. In the seventies the industry collapsed due to a market oversaturated with foreign products. It wasn't until the mid-nineties (with films like Dinosaur Dooly) that the industry regained ground in the eyes of local and international observers. More works are being produced every year now, and the market is growing exponentially. What the industry needs is a flagbearer, something that will focus the spotlight on this growing and creative environment. My Beautiful Girl, Mari may just be that, and winning the top prize at Annecy (the world's biggest animation festival) will hopefully help people learn more about Korean animation in the next few years.
     Nam-woo is living in a seaside village, with his widowed mother and her new boyfriend (voiced by Ahn Sung-ki). He's suffering because everyone close to him has died, left, or is about to leave. His grandmother is ill, his best friend is leaving soon to study in Seoul, and in some way his mother is "leaving" him too by paying more attention to her new lover. To escape from this harsh reality, he daydreams of a fantastic place, where a girl named Mari tries to connect with him. His fantasies become more and more frequent, and even help him overcome some serious problems. Now an adult (voiced by Lee Byung-heon), Nam-woo reflects on what kind of impact Mari and her world had on his growth as a human being.
     The animation techniques on display are distinctively different from those of Japanese animation or the usual Disney film. My Beautiful Girl, Mari features a nice balance between realism and expressionist fantasy, and was created with simple software like 3D Studio Max, Adobe Premiere and Photoshop.
     One thing that separates the film from many others is the air of nostalgia felt throughout the work. While downbeat, the film never falls into the sledgehammer tragedy of Isao Takahata's Grave of The Fireflies. It's somewhat similar in tone to films like Takahata's own Only Yesterday, Bae Chang-ho's My Heart, or Harmonium in My Memory. The film represents a way of life which may be lost, drowned out by cell phones, the Internet and stock exchanges. My Beautiful Girl, Mari is a remarkable work which will hopefully lead Korean animation into a new era - an era where their works will be as appreciated as those coming from Japan and America. (LunaSea 2002)
Awards: 26th Annecy International Animated Film Festival (France - 2002)
Grand Prix Winner, Best Feature
Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English Subtitles
Clips from the director's previous shorts
DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Mega Star / Media Asia
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean and Cantonese Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen