Big Fish and Begonia
With animated sequences to rival Studio Ghibli, Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun’s 12-year visual masterpiece Big Fish and Begonia is a sight to behold. A combination of stunning hand-drawn animations enhanced by impressive CG effects, the brainchild of the two filmmakers is notable for its aesthetics, yet the narrative thread unravels into an incoherent muddle of both confusion and awe.
Chun, an enchanted earthling residing in a fantasy realm beneath the ocean, adventures into the mortal world as a rite of passage. Whilst exploring the sea as an ethereal red dolphin, the 16-year-old protagonist breaks the one rule dictated to her by her elders in approaching and interacting with a boy who ultimately sacrifices his life to save her. Riddled with guilt, the teenager sacrifices half of her lifespan to repay the favour, but finds that her actions come at a price.
In relation to the Chinese animation industry, this movie can be considered a landmark achievement for its creators. Starting its life as a short flash animation in 2004, it has accumulated a significant following, making 64 million pounds at the Chinese box office alone. However, being inspired heavily by the Taoist classic Zhuangzi and national mythology, it is unclear whether such specific cultural references will be understood and appreciated by a foreign audience.
On the surface, the film’s plotline is reminiscent of the fantastical Ghibli animation Spirited Away, which took the Western sphere by storm. Much like Xuan and Chun’s latest work, Miyazaki’s feature relies on ethnic traditions to create a universe which is unique and immersive, yet it also spins an enchanting coming-of-age tale relatable to all cultures and creeds.
Although it tells a somewhat beguiling story, Big Fish and Begonia is mesmeric in style and flair. Unfortunately, the movie still lacks the substance needed to be considered an animated classic.
Big Fish and Begonia is released in select cinemas on 18th April 2018.
Watch the trailer for Big Fish and Begonia here: