Korean animator makes global impact

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Korean animator makes global impact

When “Oseam” first opened in Korea last year, it did not receive much fanfare, despite much critical acclaim. After a few weeks on screen, the animation was forced to retreat from theaters, selling only 100,000 tickets. Efforts to move the film beyond its enthusiastic cult following weren’t successful either.
Yet this shunned film received a hearty welcome at this year’s Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France, which ended Saturday. The festival even awarded its grand prize, Cristal d’Annecy, to “Oseam,” directed by Sung Baek-yeob, 42.
It’s the second Korean animated film to receive the grand prize after “My Beautiful Girl, Mari,” directed by Lee Seong-kang, won in 2002.
The Annecy festival is called the Cannes of the animation world, held every other year in this small town in southern France. The festival has honored films that have led global animation trends, such as “Porco Rosso,” by Hayao Miyazaki.
Han Chang-wan, a professor of animation at Sejong University, said, “This award means that the world animation scene has accepted Korea as a mainstream country when it comes to creating animation.”
Based on a children’s story of the same title, “Oseam” is about a 5-year-old boy, Gil-son, and his blind sister, Gami, who become orphaned after their mother dies. The two begin a symbolic journey to find their mother and end up at a small temple.
Gil-son brings vigor to the temple once shrouded in serenity. He hides monks’ shoes and makes inappropriate noises during their services.
Gil-son eventually learns how to open the eyes of his heart, which the monk tells him will be the way to meet his mother once again. The 5-year-old’s longing for his mother’s love is enough to make viewers teary-eyed.
“Oseam” was produced using cell animation technique, which requires a lot of hand drawing as the sketches-to-animation process does not use a computer. This gave the film warmth, unlike many others produced mostly by computers. Scenes of wood filled with colored leaves, or the small temple in each of the four seasons, come alive with such techniques.
The director Mr. Sung said, “I was too excited about being in the competition [the festival] to think about actually winning a prize.
“When ‘My Beautiful Girl, Mari’ was awarded the grand prize in 2002, many thought it could only be a lucky coincidence, but this second award, I hope, will change people’s views toward Korean animation,” he said.
Mr. Sung also mentioned his own experience of losing a mother at an early age as one of the driving forces behind his success.
Local industry people say that this film, with its Korean sentiment, succeeded in overthrowing the stereotype of Korean animation’s role as a subcontractor.
Annecy also presented a special section on Korean animation this year, showing five feature animated films and 47 shorts.
Annecy also awarded “Lorenzo,” by Mike Gabriel of the United States, the grand prize in shorts. The jury’s special award went to “Ryan” by Chris Landreth from Canada.
Another Korean animator, Park Se-jong, received an award for his first film, titled “Birthday Boy.”

by Lee Hoo-nam, Hwang Hye-rim
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