Monday, January 28, 2013

KCS Film Night: Padak

Even in a restaurant aquarium, the law of the jungle still holds.  However, one mackerel has different ideas, preferring the hope of freedom to a life playing dead.  Obviously riffing on Pixar’s fish story, Lee Dae-hee’s Padak is surprisingly serious stuff that might be better suited to older animation fans when it screens tomorrow as part of the Korean Cultural Service’s regular free movie night (trailer here).

Even before she reached the restaurant (more of a coastal greasy spoon), the young mackerel did her best to flip and flop back to the ocean.  In the tank, she compulsively darts and dives, trying to break through the invisible walls.  Somewhat amused at the futility of her efforts, the other fish dub her Padak (meaning “flappy”).  They have adopted the survival tactics of the old flatfish, playing dead whenever humans approach the tank and cannibalizing their sickly neighbors.

Padak refuses to follow his strategy.  She would rather take her chances with a desperate escape attempt than the cringy existence proscribed by the flatfish.  In fact, Padak rather powerfully suggests the ultimate price of freedom is still favorable to an undignified security.  That is a laudable message, but it might be a bit much for some youngsters to handle.  Parents should note, there is also a fair amount of filleting and gutting in the film.  Clearly, those tanks are not in front of the restaurant for decorative purposes.

Padak’s animation is very strong, approaching the level of recent Dreamworks Animation releases.  The fish are quite expressive and the scenes with humans have a dark, almost expressionistic flavor.  However, the strongest, most complicated character is the hard-bitten old flatfish rather than the plucky but not particularly well fleshed out Padak.

Given its anthropomorphic fish, viewers will probably come into Padak with a certain set of expectations.  However, film works towards a bittersweet and somewhat tragic ending that is quite mature and thoughtful.  For grown-ups, it pays off handsomely.  While there is absolutely nothing in Padak that could be considered objectionable, it is still recommended as an adult fable for older animation fans.  It screens—for free—tomorrow (1/29) at the Tribeca Cinemas, courtesy of the Korean Cultural Service in New York.