Sky Blue Review
The year is 2142, and the once-wholesome land has been destroyed by pollution and its natural resources exhausted, leaving nothing but rain-soaked brown wasteland as far as the eye can see. A small number of people survive in the self-sufficient city of Ecoban, where the elite enjoy a life of luxury at the expense of those living in the slums. As the tension between rich and poor mounts, Jay, one of the city's security captains, is shocked when she comes face to face with her childhood sweetheart, Shua, who was meant to have died when they were children. Now working with an underground resistance group determined to put an end to the exploitation of the inhabitants of the slums, Shua finds himself questioning his principles as he struggles with the feelings he still has for Jay, particularly his promise to her that she would one day see a clear blue sky.
Sky Blue is the title given to the English dub of the 2003 Korean animated juggernaut Wonderful Days, a film that performed so abysmally at the box office that it was rushed to DVD within weeks of its theatrical release. The film itself is not particularly good, even if it does feature some jawdropping imagery thanks to a pioneering combination of 2D animation, CGI and miniatures. The combination of cel animation and CGI is nothing new - Disney did it for years back when they were still producing traditional animation - but in all previous examples of this technique, it seemed that were was at least some effort to blend the computer generated material with the traditional, in order to make it look like it could have been drawn by hand. In Sky Blue, no such attempt is made, and thus more often than not it looks as if the 2D characters have simply been overlaid on top of the 3D environments, creating an uneasy situation in which the different elements never really connect in a convincing manner. This is further compounded by the use of live action miniatures, which add yet another competing element, and while they go reasonably well with the CGI elements, they are even more detached from the 2D materials.
When writer/director Moon-Saeng Kim and his team allow the visuals to speak for themselves, the results can be quite impressive. Jay's drive through the rain-drenched wasteland at the start of the film, as the opening credits are displayed, is a stunning piece of work that establishes a brilliantly sombre mood and paints the world that she inhabits as a believable place. Likewise, the final moments, which feature a climax comprised almost entirely of stunning visuals, are almost operatic in their splendour... but by the time it comes you'll long since have stopped caring about what happens - if indeed you ever did in the first place. The problem is that the script is dreadful, cobbling together tired clichés from similar visions of the future like Blade Runner and The Matrix. Indeed, the depiction of Ecoban feels so much like something out of Logan's Run that it's a wonder that film's producers didn't sue for plagiarism. All of this is wrapped up in a dreary love triangle with Jay being caught between Shua and her security chief boyfriend Cade (Simon in the Korean original), which seems like an attempt to give the audience a point of identification with the characters' plight but in reality simply comes across as lame and predictable. Its biggest problem, though, is how deadly seriously it takes itself, never deviating from the same gloom-laden mood that insists on pounding the viewer into submission. ("How long has it been raining?" Jay drearily intones during the opening sequence. "Forever. Not forever, no. For a hundred years." Yeesh.)
When it was announced that the film was going to receive an English-language makeover, there was some speculation that this would include a radical reworking of the plot in order to shore up some of its biggest problems. However, beyond condensing the opening credits sequence and narration into a single scene, and adding a few additional lines of dialogue and voice-overs to clarify characters' emotions and further expand on what they are intending to do, the English cut does not differ substantially from its Korean counterpart - in fact, the difference in the running time is one a minute (corrected for PAL speed-up). As such, the English version does not alter the film anything like as significantly as some had predicted. It is, ultimately, the same flawed, tortuous film, with its strongest points - the visuals and the rich score by Jae-Il Sim - surviving intact.
Sky Blue, Wonderful Days - call it what you like, it's still a tired and tedious film and a chore to sit through. It's something of a shame that this, the highest budgeted Korean animated production ever, was not more of a success given that the country's industry is more often than not seen as nothing more than a source of cheap labour for American animated television series (virtually everything on TV is sent to Korea to be animated in order to save costs). As it stands, though the film is not without its strengths but ultimately a waste of time. I understand the need to more adult-oriented animation on the market, but does it all have to be this boring?
Presented anamorphically in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, this transfer is more or less equal to that of the Korean DVD I previously reviewed, although it has different strengths and weaknesses. The good news that the level of edge enhancement present on the image has been drastically reduced here, and it remains in progressive scan throughout (the Korean DVD was badly flagged and a number of scenes played back in interlaced mode). Unfortunately, though, a number of compression artefacts, which were more or less entirely absent on the Korean DVD, have appeared here, some of which are quite distracting. Overall, this is a decent transfer from Tartan, but it could have been quite a bit better. I have included a comparison of an enlargement of the same frame from the Korean DVD (left) and the UK DVD (right) below:
All three audio options provided with this release feature the English language dub. The lack of the original Korean track was unavoidable given that segments of the film have been reordered and condensed, but the situation is made all the more infuriating due to the fact that the changes made to the film were minor to say the least. As such, although the options available are of an excellent standard (especially the DTS track), we are not getting the complete package here, and I have adjusted the score accordingly. This is not really Tartan's fault (it was not their decision to edit the film, and the original Korean cut was probably not made available to them), but the situation is annoying nonetheless.
As seems to always be the case with Tartan's English-language releases, there are no subtitles.
All of the extras are provided on the second of this two-disc set, and the vast majority of them are carried over from the 2003 Korean release. Regrettably, the audio commentary has not been ported over; nor have any of the many Korean pre-release trailers (instead we get the English language theatrical trailer).
Additionally, the organisation of the materials has changed dramatically. On the Korean DVD, one long documentary on the making of the film was provided, in addition to various galleries and promotional materials. Here, the documentary has been split into different sections relating to specific topics - CGI, visual design and so on. Because these pieces have been unceremoniously chopped from a larger piece, they feel quite disjointed and more often than not it is quite clear what they are: clips from something much larger. As far as I can tell, most if not all of the material from the documentary is included here, but because of the nature of its presentation it is difficult to get a complete picture of the production process. Additionally, some bright spark has decided to matte the majority of the material into widescreen (the presentation on the Korean disc was full-frame), seemingly in order to obscure on-screen Korean text identifying the various speakers, providing text-based information, and so on. Quite apart from making the compositions appear very cramped and obscuring a fair amount of information, this also means that none of the participants are properly identified.
Sky Blue is as tedious a film in English as it is in Korean, and while it might be of interest to those with an affinity with the technical side of animation, purely because of its landmark combining of different techniques, this is not the best way to see it. The presentation is quite frustrating both because of the absense of the original Korean audio and because of the counterproductive organising of the bonus materials. If you really want to see the film, I recommend the Korean release; otherwise, you probably shouldn't bother.
Last updated: 15/06/2018 21:29:56