17 February 2018

Animovies review - Big Fish & Begonia

Ever wondered what the result would be if you mix a typical Ghibli-style of storytelling with the animation power of the studio behind legend of Korra? Well, then you get the movie Big Fish & Begonia!

Animovie reviews - Big Fish and Begonia

Big Fish and Begonia, or Dà Yú HǎiTáng as it is known in Chinese is the first fully animated feature by the Chinese animation Studio "B&T Studio", with support from the Korean Studio Mir, who is best known for their work on Legend of Korra and Voltron Legendary Defender.

it's been circulating in festival circuits and will have limited theater runs later on in this year. For example, MangaUK has announced a limited theater run in the UK starting April 18th. And I've been lucky enough to have seen it at the Brussels Anima festival last weekend. So this is my review.

The story

This story takes place in the spirit realm filled to the brim with spiritual beings from Chinese myths and legends. Our main character Chun participates in a yearly coming of age ceremony where all spiritual beings born in the same year are transported to our human realm for a period of seven days. They do this so that every spirit knows what the human realm is and what humans are. But since they are spiritual beings, they need to take a different form when they travel to our world; this in the shape of a red dolphin.

When Chun enters the human realm, she notices a small family of a teenage boy, his younger sister and the bestest of good boys who enjoy watching the yearly appearance of red dolphins near their house. The family travels in a boat alongside the dolphins for a while and the teenage boy plays a dolphin-shaped ocarina, which charms Chun.

All spiritual beings travel the world and on the seventh day they are returning to the spiritual portal. But wouldn't you know, humans are dicks. In the region of her return path, Chun sees many dolphins getting caught by fisherman and she eventually gets stuck in a similar fishing net.
The teenage boy notices the red dolphin struggling to get out and swims in stormy waters to free the dolphin. But by accident Chun knocks out the boy that helped her, causing him to get sucked up by a nearby whirlpool and drown.

Filled with regret, Chun takes the ocarina and returns to the spirit realm. While her family is glad that Chun returned without physical harm, Chun wants to find a way to right her wrongdoing.
Through mystical means (I have no better way of describing this without spoiling some nice imagery) she ends up with a caretaker of human spirits. This is the place where good human souls go after they die. They end up in a sort of "library" with fish bowls and in the shape of very tiny dolphins.
The keeper of souls gives Chun a proposition. He can revive the dolphin that houses the spirit of the drowned boy in exchange for half of her life force. Due to her regret, she sees no other way but to accept this Faustian bargain.

She gains the fish bowl and the keeper explains the rules. She has to nurture the tiny baby dolphin to a full-grown creature, then find a portal to the human world similar to the portal used in the coming of age ceremony and use a token from the human world to help the creature home. Once the dolphin is returned to the human world, he is physically revived in his human body, but he will forget everything that happened in the spirit world.

But the path towards returning the dolphin to the human world is one filled with peril. The other spirits shouldn't know about this deal, since it's a taboo thing. Not only that, it appears that by doing this deal, various weather calamities are happening throughout the spirit realm. While the other spirits are seeking to find the cause of the calamities (to try and get rid of it), Chun and her neighborhood friend Qiu try their best to keep the dolphin out of the hands of the other spirits.

And what happens next is a pure Ghibli-style adventure that is better left... unspoiled.

My experience

This movie was way better than I ever expected. It blew my mind. The animation was really good! But I honestly can't see what was done by the Chinese studio what has been done by Studio Mir. Because this movie looks like it's a sequel (or prequel) to Legend of Korra. The similarity in art style is uncanny. And honestly, I don't mind. I loved the Legend of Korra and the episodes based in the Spirit realm were some of my absolute favorites.
And I don't know much about Chinese mythology, but this sure made me curious. So many creatures with so many powers that are clearly based on various myths and legends. I kind of want to see more of these realms. I'm genuinely curious.

There are a few downers to, to this movie. I'm not a huge fan of the main character Chun. She has a split personality in the movie and flip-flops between cold and emotionless to heartwarming and caring and looking as if she jumped straight out of a Ghibli movie. They should've stuck with one version overall, to be honest. They could've made Chun as interesting as Chihiro from Spirited away. But as it stands now, this flip-flopping makes the main character quite unlikable; especially if you start thinking what she ends up doing and nearly destroys the entire spirit realm for her selfish reasons.

Also, I feel like a lot of story points are left unfinished. The story arc of certain characters just ends with us wondering what happened to them. I can't say who, because it's spoiling a few plot twists. It feels like the story was cut for time constraints. If there ever comes a sequel to this movie, or a full-fledged tv-series; there's at least one character of which I want to know how she ended up.

Oh, and one more thing... Dolphins ARE NO FISH. They're mammals. Yes, I know the Chinese title literally says Big Fish and Begonia. But the localization team could've tapped the studio on the shoulder and have said: "yeah, over here we call them mammals." And honestly speaking: "Dolphin and Begonia" would've made as much sense of a title like "Big Fish and Begonia", but it would've been more accurate.

But in the end, those were just a few minor concerns. Overall, I loved this movie. It's a great theatrical start for the Chinese B&T Studio and certainly a movie worth checking out in theater, on streaming and to own on Blu-ray. Definitely worth checking out.

Have you seen Big Fish & Begonia? What did you think about it? Let me know in the comments down below.
And until next time, V out.

My review in vlog form

Official Trailer

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