Film & DVD Review
The Earth has deteriorated into a murky hell due to an environmental disaster by the year 2142. An elite race of humans has built a floating, fortified city called Ecoban that converts the surrounding pollution into energy. Meanwhile, hordes of downtrodden survivors subsist outside the city in sprawling hovels under perpetually dark and cloudy skies. Threatened by falling pollution, the Ecoban leadership hatches the dastardly plan of wrecking the world beyond the city to secure energy. The story expounds on the love triangle of three characters - Ecoban security officer Jay, resistance fighter Shua and Ecoban security chief Simon - as they struggle to find happiness on their stormy planet.
When you think of animated films, there are only two countries that come to my mind - Japan and the USA. Each has their own distinctive style, and are at the forefront of animated cinema. It was with surprise then that I viewed this Korean animated film, Wonderful Days. Costing US$10 million to make, Wonderful Days claims the record for being the most expensive Korean animated feature to date, but money isn't everything as a lot of big budget Korean cinema flops have shown.
The story in Wonderful Days is a little complex and difficult to follow at times. The year is 2142, and the world is in a state where pollution has over run the planet. A group of elitists have managed to develop a system where the pollution can be used as energy, and they have built a growing, self-maintaining city that feeds off the pollution - Ecoban. The inhabitants of Ecoban, and everyone else outside of the city, the Marrians, are completely exclusive, with the Ecobans seeing the Marrians as nothing more than dirt. In the current situation the pollution levels are decreasing, threatening the Ecoban energy levels, and rather than lose their home the Ecoban governing body contemplate destroying the Marr (everywhere outside the Ecoban) causing huge levels of pollution from which their city can feed. The loss of life to the Marrians is insignificant to them.
A rebel against the Ecobans is Shua, once an Ecoban himself, and a man who longs for nothing more than to see the blue sky again. In an attempt to gain vital information for the Marrian resistance, he sees his childhood love Jay, who is now an Ecoban security officer, who had previously believed him to be dead. This causes a conflict of interests in her mind, but her superior, Simon, also harbours strong feelings for her, and will not let anything or anyone step in his way. Shua now has two battles on his hands, one to let Jay know the truth, and one to destroy the Ecoban allowing the Marr to see blue sky and survive.
That is the basic gist of the story, and while I may not have made it seem overly complicated, the way in which it is dealt out to the viewer can at times be a tad confusing to follow, but not impossible. The first and most striking impression that Wonderful Days makes on the viewer is in the visuals. Simply put, the film looks superb. The animation is of a very high standard, and it utilises a combination of techniques in order to attain the final look. First off it uses filmed miniature models. I only discovered this from watching some of the extra features, but you see some incredibly detailed sets, like the Marrian town, and these were filmed and then the animated features overlaid onto the film. I had thought that all the sets that were actually miniature models were in fact incredibly detailed 3D rendered models, and I could easily be forgiven for thinking so. This is due to the level of detail in the actual 3D rendered animation. The attention to detail is amazing, and puts some of the 3D animation right up there with the best I've ever seen. Some objects look as though they could be real, but they are not. I would honestly say that the 3D animation is as good as what you've seen in the likes of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and it had incredible animation!
The final animation style used is the good old-fashioned 2D cell animation. As you would expect, this doesn't have anywhere near the level of detail that is shown in the 3D objects, which works very much to the cell animations detriment. With the absolutely stunning looking backdrops in most scenes, the 2D animation sticks out badly because of the lack of depth, detail and the simpler colours. It is quite off putting at first, the stark contrast between the cell animation and the rendered 3D stuff and miniatures, and in some scenes it really doesn't work too well. However, by the end of the film I wasn't noticing nearly as much as in the beginning. This was for two reasons, 1) I slowly got used to the look and style of the film and the contrast became more acceptable, 2) I was quite interested and engaged in the story that it had most of my attention, as opposed to picking faults with the animation! The contrast aside, the actual animation for the 2D stuff is only alright. It certainly isn't groundbreaking stuff, but it gets the job done well enough.
I said earlier that the plot for Wonderful Days was quite complex, that is really if you go into more specifics of this plot, but the general idea isn't actually anything original. It is just another film where there are two sets of people, and a love-triangle that crosses those social boundaries. I don't know whether it was because this formulaic plot was put into a sci-fi setting, but something about it got me very interested in how the story developed and I was more than adequately entertained. All the out-comes can be predicted, as unfortunately there are no surprises in that department, but the interaction of the characters and all the little sub-plots and stories make the journey to the expected ending a decent ride. I certainly got far more into this film that I did the likes of Ghost In The Shell. That being said, there was the odd section of the film that had me quite baffled. The main one was Shua's dream as the Ecoban security people were coming to kill him; I have no clue what all that was about!
Being an animated film, disproportionate amounts of the budget don't have to be spent on the big actions scenes, or which there are a few in Wonderful Days. There are big explosions, lots of guns and other projectile weapons, chase scenes, hand-to-hand combat... it's all there, and it looks cool! One of the chase scenes in particular reminded of the pod racing section of Star Wars: Episode 1, with all the high speed weaving between obstructions, and regardless of what your opinion of the Star Wars film was, the pod racing scene was cool, so this here isn't a bad reminder!
I also have to mention the film's soundtrack. Generally it did its job, and not much really stood out in the positive or negative as it usually takes something special or noticeable for a reason for me to really pay that much attention to the music. However, in the final battle scenes the music was very noticeable, mainly due its stark contrast to what was on screen. With the big final battle there were lots of guns going, rockets and the like, and was quite a violent, frantic and desperate fight, so I would have expected the music to compliment this mood, but it didn't. It was actually a really quite slow and sad composition giving the scene so much more of a desperate "last stand" sort of feel. It worked very, very well.
I'm running out of things to say now, so basically Wonderful Days is an excellent piece of animated film. The story, while at its core it is very simple, is engaging, interesting and entertaining, the visuals are superb, with maybe the cell animation bringing the average down a bit, but the film as a whole looks scrumptious! Some other websites have slated this film, just praising it for its animation, but in my opinion it is an animated film that is very much worth picking up.
Audio & Subtitles
This release of Wonderful Days comes with both Korean DD5.1 and DTS soundtracks. For my viewing I chose the DTS option, as DTS is in theory better. The first thing I'll state about this soundtrack is that it is damn good! All the audio is perfectly crisp and clear, with good volume balance, and some nice subwoofer use. The sound effects that have been recorded for everything that you see on screen are all very fitting, making the sometime very realistic images come across even more real. The surrounds are used very frequently; whenever a motorbike zooms off screen, the roar of the engine follows the path the bike was taking, whether it is to the front left and right channels, or to the rear channels. In the Ecoban city there are sounds coming from all around, fully immersing you in the city, in the gunfights bullets ring all around you, from the front to the rear and vice versa. Simply put, I thought the DTS track kicked ass!
The most noticeable thing about the English subtitles was that they were not the usual size, weight and font that I've become accustomed to on my DVDs. These subtitles are bigger in size, bolder in weight and are a different font. I think they were also a shade of grey rather than white, although I could be mistaken with that. This was a little distracting at first, but it was easy to get used to them. Grammatically and spelling wise, the subs were nigh on perfect, with literally one or two spelling errors throughout the film.
The anamorphic widescreen picture quality was of an equally high standard. The colours were all very bold when needed, and bleak and barren looking when the situation calls for it. The picture looked very crisp and sharp throughout giving high apparent detail levels. Obviously in animation the detail can only really get as good as is drawn into a scene, but as I've stated in the main body of the review, the attention to detail in Wonderful Days is very high. I hope the screen grab does the picture justice, but the one where the guy is holding a gun in front of the stained glass window should hopefully show the strength in the colours and detail in the image. I didn't notice and graininess to the print while watching. All in all, I think this is a very good print.
DVD & Extras
As you'd expect and hope, this 2 DVD release comes with a good host of extra features. Unfortunately for those non-Korean speaking and reading people, they come unsubtitled. On the film disc the only extra is an audio commentary from the director Kim Mun-Saeng, 2 CG Supervisors, someone involved in the digital colouring, a preproduction supervisor and the animation director - so quite a few people to hear from there! The 2nd disc is where all the rest of the extras are located. Strangely the menus for the discs are in either English and Korean or just English, but some of the submenus are in Korean only. A strange mix, but I guess a lot of Korean people are comfortable with reading English. Anyway the extras, the first heading is for the film's Making Of. This is split into many sections, which you have a choice of watching separately or playing them all. In total it runs in at 48.5 minutes. The sections here are Preproduction - Background and Music; Multimation; Preproduction (I have a feeling this was meant to just be Production) - Film Story and Background Painting, Miniature, Cell Animation, Computer Graphics; Post Production - Composite, Music/Sound; Marketing. Not reading or speaking Korean, I only watched a few bits of this, Miniature being one of them. This shows the models streets etc. that were built and then used in the film.
The next main heading is for Production Notes, which is primarily a Korean text based affair. Next up is the Gallery. Usually I think photo galleries are a pointless extra, but in this case there is an exception. The sub-menus are in Korean only, but the pictures shown are some final product images, but also the layers used to get the final effect. I thought it was really quite interesting! The second last main heading is for Promotional Material. In here there is the theatrical trailer, 2 film trailers, a music video of some Korean song with video footage from the film and pictures of the film posters. The last main menu is for Filmmakers. This is another Korean text based affair giving biographies and filmographies for lots of people involved in the film. So there are a good lot of extras here, just a shame a lot of them are inaccessible for those who don't read and speak Korean.
Well, it is generally the norm that Korean releases of films don't have English subtitles on the extras, which is a shame as otherwise for non-Korean reading and speaking people these DVDs really would be the complete package. The film looks amazing, it has a good story and is very good entertainment. Second to Spirited Away, Wonderful Days is now my second favourite Asian animated film.
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