Friday, July 24, 2015

Fantasia ’15: On the White Planet

Welcome to racial allegory world. It is a tough place to live in, if you happen to be the only kid with any color or pigment. However, it is no picnic dealing with his murderous rage either. Homogeneity predictably breeds xenophobia and cruelty in Hur Bum-wook’s animated feature, On the White Planet, which screens today during the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Maybe it was a perversely rare recessive gene or perhaps a form of mutation, but somehow the outcast orphan developed skin color. This was not well received by the wider, colorless world. It destroyed his parents and reduced him to a state of feral rage. Living off garbage, the pre-teen preys on the colorless adults who refused to accept him. Having neither personal ties nor any great moral compunctions, the outcast is a perfect candidate to become a ruthless gang leader’s latest patsy. Like a dystopian Fagin, the malevolent mastermind entices street urchins with dreams of empowerment, only to exploit them for his own benefit.

There are all kinds of tell-tale signs the shunned protagonist is getting involved with a crew far worse than the cops he despises. Nevertheless, the promise of organized support and structure for his killing spree is too tempting to pass up. Unfortunately, his supposed protectors soon show their contemptible true colors, so to speak. Even his young fellow ragamuffin-ruffians are only stringing him along, hoping to score the bounty on his head.

If any of this sounds subtle, than you are profoundly misunderstanding what White Planet is all about. Yet, the black-and-white dichotomy is somewhat misleading in a film produced on the Korean Peninsula, home of two of the most racially and ethnically homogeneous nations on earth (according to Prof. Wiki).

Life on the White Planet is nasty, brutish, and downright predatory. Frankly, the only character who is not constantly looking to sell-out everyone else is the young kid, but he is generating a massive body count. Let’s be honest. Hur simply hits the audience over the head with ideological point-scoring. Nevertheless, he has crafted quite an unsettling fable. His animation is deceptively simple, finding stark power in the scarred white-and-gray wasteland of the near future (or the alternate now). He also renders some unconventional but effective action sequences.

Not surprisingly, White Planet is a little thin when it comes to characterization. Such is usually the case with both allegory and propaganda. Hur’s film could be described as either, but its distinctive look still merits attention from animation connoisseurs. Recommended for style rather than substance, On the White Planet screens this afternoon (7/24) as part of this year’s Fantasia.