Saturday, July 18, 2015

Fantasia ’15: Crimson Whale

This post-apocalyptic fable suggests what might happen if Moby-Dick and Captain Ahab were to crash Kevin Costner’s Waterworld. The world is mess, but a mysterious pirate captain still wants a piece of the legendarily ferocious lava whale. Since it happens to guard a vast horde of priceless minerals, she has no trouble recruiting a crew. However, the whale-calling street orphan Ha-jin never signed on for this mission. Nevertheless, she finds herself part of the team in Park Hye-mi’s Crimson Whale, which screens today during the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Ha-jin has a gift for establishing mental links with whales (it also seems to work with porpoises). Unfortunately, her mother exploited her talents, forcing her to lure in whales to be butchered for food and fuel. It was not merely distasteful for Ha-jin, she shared their emotional pain. When Ha-jin refused to facilitate any further slaughter, she was subsequently abandoned. Forced to fend for herself on Busan’s earthquake-devastated streets, Ha-jin survives as a thief and smalltime dealer. Just when the law (such as it is) catches up with her, the mysterious Captain saves her from a nasty fate. In this case “saving” means she shanghaies Ha-jin into service for her assault on the great Crimson Whale.

Although Crimson is set during a tectonic Armageddon, Park’s screenplay is admirably restrained in its environmental soap-boxing. For all we know, the beginning of the end started naturally. However, it presents viewers two strong female action figures. Ha-jin is sensitive, but also resourceful and resilient. All things considered, she is much less prone to self-pity than many anime protagonists facing far less dire circumstances. There is also something appealingly Harlockian about the grudge-holding Captain.

Frankly, Crimson’s animation is pretty conventional, but Park still creates an intriguing world, mixing and matching genre elements and archetypes in rewarding ways. Within this milieu, it is hard to say with certainty where Doomsday ends and the post-apocalyptic times begin. Everyone seems to be carrying on like they used to, at least as much as possible, even though they are surrounded by anarchy.

Briskly paced, Crimson Whale has series potential (at least for a handful of character). It really is one of the better dystopian-killer whale-piracy-coming-of-age films in recent years. Recommended for older animation fans (teens and above), Crimson Whale screens today (7/18), as part of this year’s Fantasia.