Love Fantasy My Beautiful Girl Mari
Love Fantasy My Beautiful Girl Mari (here on referred to as Mari to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome) is a coming of age story set in Korea. Like Wonderful Days, Mari is visually stunning, but lacking storywise. Though the plot never quite congeals, the movie has enough going with its music, voice acting and animation to make up for it.
As children, many people have imaginary friends to play with or a fantasy world to escape to in their mind. Often this comes out of having few real friends or as a way to escape their boring daily life. As people grow up, the pressures that made them create these imaginary things do not disappear, but the make-believe friends and places do. Mundane, everyday problems replace them: getting a job, keeping it, paying the bills. Most adults scorn childhood flights of fancy, while some secretly wish that they could go back to such a time.
Nam Woo is such a person. He's a grown man living and working in the city, and he is seemingly depressed. When he sees his childhood friend, Jun Ho for the first time in several years, it brings back memories of their last summer spent together as children. The two boys grew up together in a small seaside town where they spent most of their time swimming or exploring the nearby abandoned lighthouse. It's there that Nam Woo discovers a gateway to another world. It's a strange place with huge trees and vines, where small rain clouds drift and get frightened away by Nam Woo's touch. The only other human in the place is a silent, floating girl Nam Woo dubs 'Mari.' Nam Woo quickly returns to his world, but is determined to return to the magical world he visited and see Mari again. As he deals with increasing problems in his life (Jun Ho moving away, his widow mother dating again, and female school-yard bully, Soog-y) he has even more reason to leave his world behind for Mari's enchanted one.
When a storm hits Nam Woo's town, everything comes to a head as his and Mari's world overlap. The climax is exciting because of the physical danger that the characters are in and how well the storm is animated, but it seems like an important step was missed along the way. The movie does a great job introducing the characters and it ends with a bang, but in between, not much happens. The middle section just sort of meanders along when it should be fleshing out the love triangle between Jun Ho, Nam Woo and Soog-y, or telling the viewer more about Mari and her world. I thought the movie should have either gone all out with the fantasy aspect or cut the otherworldly parts and make it a straight slice-of-life drama. Instead, it just flounders in the middle of the road, never reconciling the two genres.
Love Fantasy My Beautiful Girl Mari was animated using computers, but it was made to look like a traditional 2-D cartoon. The animators use every chance they get to throw in some visual flourish, whether it's having objects nearly leap out of the screen or showing a scene from odd perspective. With it's solid, bright colors, Mari occasionally looks like a very expensive Flash cartoon, but the animation is always eye catching and has a unique style. Though the story may borrow from other movies, I can't think of any other animated films that look like this one.
As the character designs are rather simple and only allow for so much expression, it's up to the voice actors to make the characters real people. The entire cast, especially the two actors who play Jun Ho as a child and an adult, are great. Supposedly some of the voice actors are well-known movie stars in Korea, though I'm not familiar enough with the Korean film industry to recognize anyone. All I can tell is that the cast really sold me on the characters and how they felt.
The song that plays over the opening credits is a dreamy, laid back song that's used as the theme throughout most of the movie. The music manages to fit every scene that it's used in, and it makes me want to try out some other Korean music in the future.
As of writing, ADV currently holds the rights to Mari, but has yet to release it in North America. It's available with English subtitles from several legit online DVD stores, though only in Region 3. If you have an all-region DVD player and are curious about Korea animation, Love Fantasy My Beautiful Girl Mari would be the logical next step.