My Beautiful Girl, Mari (South Korea 2002)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 5/28/06

A lyrical tale of love and loss coupled with the dreams of youth and the magic of childhood fantasy. Nam-woo and Jun-ho are two average kids in a small Korean fishing village. Both of them are loners, and they spend their days hanging out at an abandoned lighthouse, daydreaming of action and adventure. The line between reality and fantasy starts to blur when Nam-woo is whisked away to a fantastic dreamworld and meets a mysterious woman in white named Mari. Is he dreaming, or does Mari's world really exist? Or does it matter? Much like Hayao Miyazaki's "My Neighbor Totoro" (1988), the reality of children is much different than the reality of adults, and perception is governed by innocence and experience. Loss is a central theme, as Nam-woo lost his father at a young age, his friend Jun-ho is leaving to go to school in Seoul, his grandmother is fighting an illness, and Mari faces extinction as well. The narrative is deliberately slow and meandering, reflecting a child's carefree passage of time. The film doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's easy to get wrapped up in the beautifully detailed cultural imagery and the fantastic flora and fauna of Mari's world. The film is entirely computer animated, utilizing high quality rendered backgrounds and simply stylized cel-shaded characters. The look is self consistent and works well. The voice acting seems a little flat, but perhaps it was intentional given the subject matter and somewhat somber tone. A good film if you have patience and an eye for beauty.