Michaele Jordan is the author of the period occult thriller Mirror Maze and her stories have appeared in Redstone Science Fiction, Buzzy Mag, The Crimson Pact, Volumes 4 and 5 and Fantasy and Science Fiction. You can visit her website at MichaeleJordan.com while waiting for the upcoming steampunk adventure Jocasta and the Indians.
You probably have not heard of this 2007 Korean film directed by Lee Sung-gang. Even most anime fans may miss it, since it is not a Japanese TV series about big-eyed school children slaying demons and manning giant robots. I don’t see any indication it was ever distributed in the USA, although it did appear in a few film festivals in 2008. And that really is a shame.
Mind you, this delightful film (with Ye-jin Son as Yobi and Deok-Hwan Ryu as Geum-ee) makes very little sense. Just for starters, let’s consider the prologue. We are told the history of a species of magical shape shifters known as nine-tailed foxes. There are several more references within the film to nine-tailed foxes. But there aren’t any nine-tailed foxes in it anywhere.
As the title plainly states, Yobi has five tails. The animation clearly depicts her cute little fox behind, and if you hit pause you can count them. Even when she is posing as a human teenager, she frequently retains the tails and there are definitely five of them. This oddity pales beside the alien spaceship with legs, populated by capybaras that wear riveted metal underpants, snack on nails and discuss the downside to puberty, which they think is likely to occur when the subject reaches a hundred or so years of age. What are aliens doing in a movie about shape-shifting foxes? Hey, I said it made no sense.
The story is slight, a sad but sweet little adolescent romance. It’s doomed, of course, since the boy is human and Yobi isn’t. So, if there’s not much story, and even less sense, what makes this movie so good?
Everything. The animation is breathtaking; it almost rivals Miyazaki. The story, per se, may be slim, but it is filled with interesting things happening. We walk away wondering what happened to the bear we saw by the Lake of Souls, waiting and hoping her lost cub would emerge. And what back-story left the hunter so angry that he swore vengeance on a vanished race? Mr. Shadow has a mysterious back-story, too, not to mention an agenda.
Most of all, we wonder what happened to the children. Most of the action takes place at a ‘summer camp’ for children who did badly in school, although it would be more accurately described as a dumping ground for damaged kids. Their teacher/babysitter/camp counselor Kang seems good-hearted and well meaning (if no mental giant) but he admits freely he has no idea how to help his charges. We see him make mistakes, like taking the autistic girl’s teddy bear away from her. We are so relieved when she comes out of her shell enough to talk to her parents. But we never learn how the others fared.
There is nothing obviously wrong with Geum-ee. He’s goofy and doesn’t like school, but that is hardly damning. He wants to be a comedian some day, and he has a ridiculous song and dance routine about the Sphinx. But he has no friends. Romance completely aside, Yobi is the first friend he has every had. Just as he is her first friend. We wish him well, but. . . Who knows? We see him last, looking out the school bus window.
I do not want to commit any spoilers. This film needs to be discovered frame by lovely frame, its charms absorbed and its unanswered questions addressed, each in their proper order. Fortunately, it may be obscure, but it’s readily available. Just check Netflix or YouTube. You won’t be sorry.