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BUSAN, South Korea — The trials and tribulations that a farm hen undergoes to bring up her adopted duckling in Leafie makes the multitasking mom in How Does She Do It look like a dud. This animation from Korea draws from that country’s elegant ink brush painting tradition, throws in some tear-jerking nuggets from Korean TV soaps and anchors the story with sympathetic, fully-fleshed out characters. The narrative sophistication of Oh Seong-yun’s direction and the screenplay by Kim Eun-jung and Na Hyun rival live-action drama made for adults, with enough smashing action sequences to keep a young crowd hooked. Whether intentional or not, it transcends mere entertainment by rooting for single moms and mixed race adoptions.
Among local animation, it ruled the roost at Korean box office, selling over 2 million tickets. Offshore, it is probably most comfortable nesting in kidfests and family channels. Voice-dubbing by internationally-recognized talents Moon So-ri (Hahaha, Oasis) and Choi Min-sik (I Saw the Devil, Old Boy) will ring a bell for festival regulars.
Escaped farm hen Leafie (Moon) oozes maternal instinct since she is deprived of the chance to brood the eggs she laid. Adrift in the wilderness, she narrowly flees the hungry jaws of One Eye the weasel (Kim Sang-hyun), thanks to Wanderer (Choi), a wild guard duck with a crippled wing. She finds a way of repaying him by adopting his son Greenie (Yoo Seung-ho), after the duckling’s mother, and later Wanderer himself fall prey to One Eye.
Leafie and Greenie settle in the Everglades with the help of local realtor Mayor, a meddling but kind-hearted otter. Not surprisingly, Greenie grows up with an identity crisis, having no one to teach him to swim or fly. But come fall, with the arrival of a flock of wild ducks, Greenie triumphantly spreads his wings in a aviation race. Before Leafie could give her son a send-off, One Eye makes her menacing presence felt again.
The film stands out for its action sequences that boast tremendous velocity, realism and cinematic flair. Wanderer’s numerous fights with One Eye pull no punches, leaving none of its bloodiness to the imagination. In another episode, Greenie is captured by the barnyard’s owner. Leafie’s rescue mission mobilizes all the animal characters in a ruckus that’s dynamically choreographed with a Keatonesque grasp of timing and acrobatics. The action reaches a pinnacle in the flying contest, which delivers some technically intricate and heart-stopping fast aerial scenes.
Leafie’s all-giving attitude, the social barriers she battles against and her hopes for her son’s success in his peer group will appeal to the martyr in almost every mother in the audience. In its honest invocation of the laws of survival and the image of nature red in tooth and nail, the story is more heart-wrenching than heart-warming for a young audience, if they are not already traumatized by parents dying on them in Dumbo and Bambi.
Spanning four seasons, which covers the transient lifespan of poultry, each season’s unique outlook is captured in vibrantly colorful sceneries done in a soft water-color style.
Busan International Film Festival, Open Cinema
Production companies: Myung Films, Odoltogi
Cast: Moon So-ri, Choi Min-sik, Yoo Seung-ho, Park Chul-min, Kim Sang-hyun
Director: Oh Seong-yun
Screenwriters:Kim Eun-jung, Na Hyun
Based on the novel by: Hwang Sun-mi
Producers: Lee Eun, Shim Jaem-yung
Director of photography: Lee Jong-hyuk
Production designer: Yoo Seung-bae
Music: Lee Ji-soo
Editors: Kim Jae-bum, Kim Sang-bum
No rating, 93 minutes.
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