LKFF 2019 - Astro Gardener Review
There aren’t many South Korean animated feature films and even less 3D ones. In this context, Astro Gardener already appears as a UCO (Unidentified Cinematographic Object) but it does so, even more, when compared to other 3D animated films from other countries, when taking into account both its message and how it is delivered, definitely making it a South Korean experience.
After losing her father in a car accident a year ago, Suha, a teenage girl, is not on good terms with her mother. Having become afraid of the dark since her father’s passing, Suha resents her mother for making her spend the summer at a quiet village in Suha Valley. Suha’s only source of comfort is her newfound friend, a puppy named ‘Night’. With a black stone she finds one day, Suha somehow enters the Astro Garden, where the stars of the universe are taken care of at night. There, she meets Omu, the Astro Gardener. When Pluto’s men attack and steal the dark, Suha loses the dark stone and Night’s shadow. Omu warns that if they can’t recover the stolen darkness overnight, the universe will vanish.
Even if, at first, the Astro Gardener’s story appears as fairly simplistic, putting aside the death of Suha’s father during the first minutes of the film, it is nonetheless one of its the main strengths. Not only it is an interesting, and original, story, it is also full of metaphors which, as the film progresses, prove deeper than the character design suggests. Omu, the Astro Gardener, is for instance charged with looking after a garden of stars and protecting the darkness of the galaxies, whilst Pluto, the “bad guy”, wants to destroy all the dark in the universe. There is, therefore, an obvious parallel between the difficult life altering situation Suha is going through as the idea of a universe without darkness could sound very nice for her… at first.
For his first feature film, Jong-Shik Won has created a gallery of interesting characters ranging from super cute (Night) to mildly (chicken with piercing)/reasonably (Pluto) creepy. The simplistically colourful, yet very appealing, character design and animation, create an interesting contrast between Suha’s feelings and her cosmic adventure, undeniably playing in favour of the film.
And, as a result, Astro Gardener progressively reveals itself as a very nice surprise, only restrained by the complete lack of threats felt for the characters, mainly due to the absence of really charismatic bad guy; Pluto might purposely resemble, a K-pop idol, and as such exercise an undeniable attraction over Suha, his actions are, nonetheless, never really frightening (putting aside their creepiness…) or genuinely endangering for Suha and her friends.
Putting this element aside, Astro Gardener remains a fun cosmic adventure, firmly grounded in the real world, which ends up being surprisingly deep.