In the London Korean Film Festival there is always a selection of long and short animations to showcase that part of the Korea motion picture industry which otherwise does not get much screen time.
This year, the organisers made a controversial decision: to promote the main animation feature as “a Korean cousin to Studio Ghibli in style”. Surely no Korean artist would like to be described as almost as good as a Japanese. But to be brutally honest Korean animation features have lived in the shadow of the more famous (and more accomplished) films coming out of Japan. My own experience of Korean animations is that they have focused on the visuals at the expense of the story.
With Green Days, there could be a change from the past. The Korean name of this feature, 소중한 날의 꿈, has to do with precious dreams. Another working English title is Dinosaur and I. The film is a nostalgic look back at teenage hopes and insecurities: it is about anxieties of adolescence, stuttering first love, fear of making mistakes the desire for success and unwillingness to accept failure. It’s about wanting to leave something behind of note during your life, the dinosaurs being a metaphor for the world’s youth who have left nothing behind on the earth except the odd fossilised footprint. It’s a charming film, with a universal message accessible to Koreans and non-Koreans alike, with the storyline staying just the right side of cheesy, and it’s great family viewing.
We were fortunate in seeing the world premier of the uncut version of the feature, which focuses on an unconfident lad who wants to be an astronaut when he grows up, and his relationship with a similarly unconfident girl who really doesn’t know what she wants to be in life – provided it doesn’t involve coming second in a relay race. The film has not yet been released Korea, and as far as I could judge really doesn’t need any cuts. There were no moments when I felt that it was dragging, and indeed the film could quite happily have spent more time fleshing out the third main character, a glamorous girl who has just joined the school from Seoul.
The sense of nostalgia for the audience is increased by having the film set in the 1970s and 1980s. The movie which all the students go to see at the cinema is Love Story; pro-wrestling is on TV; kids run behind trucks (“fart cars”) as they fumigate the streets, just like we see at the beginning of Kwak Kyung-taek’s nostalgic Friend (친구, 2001); space travel is still a very new concept, and the boy dreams that one day Korea will launch its own space ship. But at the time Korea is still developing, with shanty housing being compulsorily pulled down to make way for apartment blocks.
The studio which created the film, Studio Meditation With Pencil (Studio-mwp), has lavished much love on the picture. Co-directors Han Hye-jin and An Jae-hoon were present for questions after the film and explained how the initial frames of the animation are drawn exclusively in pencil, before computers are brought in to do the rest of the legwork. The directors totally rejected the view of the Korean animation industry presented by Banksy’s Simpsons title sequence had no basis in reality. And they were understandably reluctant to accept the Studio Ghibli comparison, preferring simply to say that both studios worked very hard, apart from which Ghibli’s films tend to be escapist fantasies, while Studio-mwp’s themes are from everyday life.
The message of the film is that it’s alright to fail, it’s alright that you want to cry. When you look back, it will be part of your childhood which has made you what you are, and you will get hope from that. One of the more homely images in the film is the idea that Wilbur and Orville Wright are up in heaven buying drinks for all the failed aviators who went before them: it is through failure, through trial and error, that lessons are learned and mankind can advance. Korean animation features have had their share of disappointments, and maybe with Green Days it might just be deserving some due rewards.
Green Days screened at the London Korean Film Festival at the Institute for Contemporary Arts on 13 November 2010, followed by Q&A with co-directors Han Hye-jin and An Jae-hoon.
- Studio-mwp website
- Korea Animation with Heart: ‘Green Days’ Film in Theaters, Aaron H. Bynum, Animation Insider, 3 June 2011.