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Wonderful Days (2003)
Director: Kim Moon-saeng

review by Amy Harlib

The New York Korean Film Festival 2004, screened a welcome treat for anime fans: the feature Wonderful Days (aka: Sky Blue), part of the exciting fluorescence of this animated art recently emerging from the southern portion of this Asian peninsula. A remarkable first directorial effort by Kim Moon-saeng, Wonderful Days (the preferred title) offers striking visuals blending 2D, CG-3D, and live-action miniatures to tell a science fictional, after-the-disaster yarn with some emotional, social, and political heft. Stylistically influenced by Japan (the birthplace of anime), this production still possesses an ambiance all its own.

In a post environmental-catastrophe 2142 AD, somewhere on the coast of the vast Eurasian continent, a privileged, elite population lives in Ecoban, an immense ultra hi-tech, self-contained arcology that derives, through the Delos system, life-sustaining energy from the ubiquitous, world-contaminating pollution (a naff idea of a modus operandi which never gets explained). Outside and alongside this huge enclosure, the Marrians, a low-status community, endures arduous labor maintaining and procuring fuel for the above-mentioned Delos system.

During an unsuccessful effort to apprehend an intruder attempting to sabotage the programs running the Delos system - Jay, a young, smart, shapely agent of the Ecoban security force, discovers the escaping perpetrator to be her long-lost, beloved, childhood heart throb Shua. Not dead from a long-ago fight (shown in a flashback) seemingly gone horribly wrong with Simon, now Jay's commanding officer and suitor for her affection - handsome, athletic, clever Shua had found a way to the Outside and joined the Marrian rebels. This underground movement dedicates its efforts to shutting down the Delos system and ending its feeding on and perpetuation of the pollution that always keeps skies cloudy and rainy, the air smoggy and the environs depleted.

Jay does not know that Ecoban's authoritarian, secretive, ruling cabal, perturbed over Delos' dwindling fuel supply - plans a solution to this problem that presents a grave threat to the Marrians that their leader, the genius Dr Noah, had deduced and sent Shua to forestall. Daring to go 'Outside' to the impoverished, hardscrabble territory of the Marrians to re-unite with Shua whose life-situation enlightens her, Jay's feelings rekindle, as does Shua's. This does not prevent Jay, with Shua following, from returning to Ecoban to confront Simon, a close-minded authoritarian (good-looks notwithstanding), contemptuous of Marrians. Meanwhile Simon, also considering Shua an anathema to Ecoban and a threat to romancing Jay, had already sent his security forces Outside against the Marrian revolutionaries - uprising in earnest.

Wonderful Days, with its combination of a love triangle story, and a proletarian rebellion against exploitation theme, effectively works to grab the viewer's attention and offers emotional satisfaction and some intellectual substance while beguiling with dazzling visuals. Ecoban's amazing, intricate, convoluted, richly textured, baroquely hi-tech interiors and the Outside's equally detailed but bleak landscapes dotted with industrial detritus and rundown settlements constructed of same - attest to the art director's/ creator's extraordinary inventiveness. Too bad the script does not quite match the beauty of the imagery. Besides the unworkable Delos system concept, the other major flaw in this film occurs at the end, which devolves into a confusing muddle. However, most of Wonderful Days - when it focuses on Jay, Shua and Simon and their unfolding emotional tangle and when it develops the colourful supporting characters in Shua's Outside milieu - offers riveting entertainment on every level.

Superbly conceived structures, clothing, gadgets, interiors, exteriors, and vehicles (oh those snazzy Ecoban motorcycles and light aircraft), smoothly animated figures amidst complex backgrounds, excellent voice talent - all graced by Jaell Sim's gorgeous, haunting score, makes Wonderful Days a wonderful animated feature despite the flaws already discussed. This film heralds a bright future for its director and for Korea's own distinct animation presence in the world.
Wonderful Days

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