It's Korea's highest grossing animation to date, Oh Seong-yoon's "Leafie, A Hen Into The Wild" is a touching tale of a mother's love and self-sacrifice. The film is based on the pre-teen novel of the same name and boasts gorgeous visuals and top voice acting in a story that is filled with equal parts of light-hearted comedy and melodrama. Local Korean theaters have generally been dominated by animations from neighboring Japan as well Hollywood blockbusters such as "Kung Fu Panda" and the many "Pokémon" films. However, "Leafie" has proven that the Korean film industry cannot only produce a top quality animation, but they can do so on there own terms as the film's 'Koreaness' is embedded in both its visuals and within its doleful, yet up-lifting, tale of motherhood.
Leafie (voiced by Moon So-ri) is a lonely and dispirited hen caged up on an egg farm. Her depressing daily life consists only of eating chicken feed and laying eggs. She longs to join the other farm animals out in the yard and get more out of her life. After she escapes the confines of her cage, by starving herself and acting dead, she soon discovers that the other animals in the yard are unwilling to accept her into their social circle. Dejected, she ventures off into the wild and becomes smitten with a wild duck named Wanderer (smoothly voiced by Chio Min-sik) whose life-long battle with a one-eyed weasel comes to a tragic climax. Leafie is left to care for his only surviving duckling and the film follows the two as they grow, share, and struggle together in a world that refuses to accept them.
The film is aimed primarily at a younger audience but some of the themes and story events may raise questions of appropriateness. The first 20 minutes contains some questionable events that almost bombard the audience with sadness and tragedy. This kind of story telling will be familiar to anyone who has experienced Korean cinema before and its inclination for the melodramatic, but my criticism here is one of pacing rather than content. Still, having been primed with the sadness of these events the film transitions into a more traditional tale of bonding and growing up between Leafie and her boy "Greenie". The two experience the expected conflict from the world around them as they struggle to be accepted by the other animals in the wild.
As their relationship progresses you might be distracted by the films inability to provide surprise, as events are largely predictable and lack bite. Besides one moment in the films dénouement, events are bland and one's enjoyment in the film is felt through the journey itself and not the destination. Themes such as a mother's love, sacrifice, and social acceptance are the main drivers of this piece and on them the film pivots. In this way the film stood out to me as truly Korean as the mother and her role as the selfless nurturer held the most weight. Korean mothers are pressured into ensuring that their children are the best no matter the cost and Leafie's character clearly encapsulates this notion.
Visually the film is a stunner marked by gorgeous backdrops and colourful characters. "Leafie" holds on to some of the magic found in older animations as choice details in the environment add interest and subtle meaning to each frame. The lighting was another well-executed technical aspect of the film. Immersive lighting skilfully bolstered the impact of the many environments the characters found themselves in, and the shading treated the eye to a deftly crafted spectacle. But while overall the film shined visually, there was a slight inconsistency to the visual aesthetic as not all scenes were given the same attention to detail. Gorgeous backgrounds where sometimes cut with ones that seems dull and flat in comparison. The characters themselves remained consistent (save for a Greenie's first real flight) but the world in which they found themselves was not as consistent as I would have hoped for.
"Leafie, A Hen Into The Wild" is an enduring tale that was brought to life by some great voice acting and stunning visuals. Whatever small flaws that exist are overshadowed by the overall impression one gets from the experience. The film is predictable but again it is the beautiful journey of love and sacrifice that will have you captivated from start to finish. "Leafie, A Hen Into The Wild" is a landmark animation and its success locally and abroad can only hope to open new doors in the future as Korean cinema continues to surprise and branch out.
-C.J. Wheeler (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Available on DVD from YESASIA
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Leafie, A Hen Into The Wild": A Mother's Love and Sacrifice."
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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