A futuristic eco-fable in which action takes precedence over too much messaging, “Wonderful Days” is a fully worked, highly cinematic toon that’s accessible for all ages, including adults. Combining a broad range of techniques, from 2-D and 3-D to miniatures, and capped by a final reel with an abstract, almost operatic power that will appeal to older aficionados of the genre, pic has definite offshore possibilities beyond Asia as a fest item in its original Korean and as a dubbed item on ancillary.
Five years in the works, and helmed by former TV commercials director Kim Mun-saeng, the $13 million movie — a huge budget by local standards — has already generated considerable advance interest on South Korean home turf, where it goes out July 16. While lacking the overall narrative sweep and involving characters of Japanimation show pieces like “Swept Away” or “Princess Mononoke,” the picture cleverly combines several different elements — from pure action to romance and vague biblical and Wagnerian references — without tarrying over the subtext. Tone is serious and darkish, without being oppressively dystopian.
Setting is Earth, AD 2142, when the planet’s eco system has been shot to hell and a bunch of humans have built Ecoban, a huge, shielded city of self-sustaining purity that organically feeds on the surrounding pollution. That’s fine for the select few inside the Noah’s Ark-like conurbation, but bad news for the so-called Marrians who live outside in low-tech hovels under perpetually dark and cloudy skies.
Story is told through the eyes of Jay, a beautiful young security officer in Ecoban who — after a striking opening set piece set on an oil rig — returns to Ecoban to find its nervous leadership mulling a dastardly plan. Ecoban’s future is threatened by falling pollution levels in the outside world, and the Marrians, buoyed by the hope that they may again enjoy “blue skies,” are getting restless. To sustain their privileged environment, the Ecoban brass decides to up the level of outside pollution.
Enter Shua, an agile young Marrian who infiltrates Ecoban and briefly bumps into Jay while being pursued by security forces. Per flashbacks, it turns out that Shua and Jay were once childhood friends, but he was expelled from Ecoban while she went on to become one of the chosen few. Even worse for Shua, security chief Simon is in love with Jay.
Shua manages to escape back outside, where he leads a final assault on Ecoban’s power unit, the Delos System. The rebels are helped by Dr. Noah, who originally designed Delos but now wants it destroyed. Jay, too, is already having second thoughts about whether she’s on the right side.
Film has a very cinematic look, mimicking regular movie compositions and camera effects like crane shots and changing depths of field (including the Hitchcockian zoom-in/track-out). There’s also a very physical feel to some sequences, such as Jaya and Shua’s first meeting during a tense hide-and-seek, that’s paralleled elsewhere by the use of actual miniatures. Melding of all these elements is smooth, and puts the film a notch above even regular 3-D animation.
However, “Wonderful Days” is at its best in its less conventionally narrative moments, especially the dream-like, slo-mo ending — set to an operatic aria — in which the characters, and Delos itself, go through a final transfiguration. It’s never more than sci-fi philosophy, but it works on a simple emotional level.
Characterization is broad, from beefy Marrian grunts to the proto-fascist inhabitants of Ecoban, determined to protect their Walhalla lifestyle at any cost. A couple of mildly sexy moments are nothing to worry parents of younger viewers.