July 15, 2007
The second animated feature to be shown at the Fantasia film festival this year was Aachi & Ssipak, a Korean film that, violence and urban dystopia notwithstanding, is miles apart from fest opener Tekkon Kinkreet, or from other Korean features like Sky Blue or My Beautiful Girl, Mari. Unlike those other three films, which profess some kind of introspection, Aachi & Ssipak is an outright and outrageous comedy, whose entire basis is, er, crap. (So maybe the touchstone should be Doggy Poo.)
It's like this: in the future, the world's new energy source is human feces. Everyone has an implanted anus ID ring, so that when someone goes to the bathroom they're rewarded with Juicybars, yummy—and, as it happens, addictive—popsicles. Blue mutants, led by a muscled, pierced, dreadlocked messiah, have been heisting Juicybar shipments in Shit City to such a degree that the city's disturbingly doll-headed fascist leader has commissioned a mad scientist to create a super-cyborg out of cadavers to fight them. Meanwhile, Aachi and Ssipak, two idiot petty Juicybar thieves, find themselves in trouble thanks to their no-good associate, the auteur-wannabe porn producer Jimmy. It's in the course of Jimmy's payback that they encounter the sexy Betsy (Beautiful in the English subtitles), and Ssipak falls head over heels for her on first sight. Betsy becomes the movie's MacGuffin when she's forcibly implanted with a new anus ring that delivers mountains of Juicybars whenever she hits the can, which further complicates things to the point where everyone is trying to catch and/or kill everyone else, with Betsy as the main prize.
At this point, reasonable people would no doubt shake their heads in bewilderment and move on. They'd also miss one of the funniest and well-crafted animated movies I've seen this year. Kino Kid put it well after we saw the film when she said, "It is what it is"—not in that shoulder-shrugging, "what are you gonna do?" way, but in the sense that in the first ten minutes, between the exposition and the car chase/gun battle, you know what type of story it is. And once the basis is established (the world is powered by shit!), there's no need to go for gross-out jokes or squishy sound effects; it's just part of the world, right down to its advertising. (Sure, the ads about happy communities crapping together is absurd, but is it any more absurd than animated marching cigarettes or winking Esso signs? Not really.)
Scatology aside, Aachi & Ssipak is also a relentless action movie that manages to be both ultra-violent (those blue mutants make for excellent exploding-body cannon fodder) and cartoony. If you check out the film's official website, you'll see what I mean. Even as the cyborg mows down mutants with a fervour and style that would be the envy of any Terminator, his body and his equipment maintain the same kind of squash and stretch we expect from gag cartoons. And bonus points to director/screenwriter Jo Beom-jin for putting in all kinds of movie in-jokes that are actually funny without calling attention to themselves (unless, as in the case of Jimmy's Jiffybar-overdose freakout, that's the point). If you've seen Battleship Potemkin you'll howl at the extended riff on the Odessa steps sequence, but if you haven't it's still funny and exciting on its own.
In terms of animation and design, Aachi & Ssipak is both consistent and ambitious. Everything in this dirty, corrupt world holds together visually, and the film is crammed with the kind of dynamic composition, animated camera moves and quick but clear editing that drew many people to anime over the last four decades.
One of the film's many movie posters declares that it contains "2D funky action in an awesome 3D reality!" It's true that there's some 3D work in there, but with one or two forgettable exceptions it's integrated quite well. Having watched the film only once (so far), I'd venture that 3D digital tools were largely used for anything that would be too complicated by hand, but the director set the "too complicated" bar pretty high. The result is that we still get some of that exaggerated, sometimes-snappy, sometimes-elastic feel in many action sequences, rather than fairly literal motion and acceleration. (This is why I'll take the space combat scenes in Macross over those in Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles any day.)
It's refreshing to see that the subject matter didn't make the filmmakers lazy, or too self-satisfied in their subversiveness. Aachi & Ssipak's story and animation work together to make a tight, hilarious action film. I don't know how likely this it is to get a domestic release, but fortunately the Korean DVD includes English subtitles.
Aachi & Ssipak
Directed by Jo Beom-jin
Buy the Aachi & Ssipak DVD (Region 3) from YesAsia.com