“They call us diggers, and they treat us like dirt”
It wasn’t the ferociously grey setting of Sky Blue (alternative title: Wonderful Days) that still haunts me. It wasn’t the compelling love triangle, or the sleek portrayal of sacrifice – so characteristic of the East. It was the soft allusion to the emotions bursting behind the characters’ eyes. Coming from the West, which tunes in only to what screams the loudest, this came as a shock – even when I first saw the film all those years ago. Especially nowadays, with global warming stepping on our heels, the message sealed within the film’s storyline needs to be exhumed.
The 2003 South Korean animated science fiction film, directed by Kim Moon-saeng [Tree Robo], hurls us into the year 2142. Ecoban, a technologically advanced city, feeds off the carbonite extracted by impoverished miners living in far-flung slums. Their livelihood depends on the perilous – and often deadly – tasks they have to carry out every day.
And yet, they are vaguely aware of the fact that their physical deformities are caused by the carbonite-catalysed reactions carried out to generate Ecoban’s power. Jay (Cathy Cavadini), part of the city’s security, is torn between obeying the orders of her superior, Cade (Kirk Thornton), and sympathising with the miners. When her childhood friend and love interest, Shua (Marc Worden), reappears in her life only to side with Ecoban’s enemies, her values are put to the test.
The film features mesmerising backdrops rendered using realistic, computer-generated imagery. The lifelike visuals are close to the ones used in the 2006 animated science-fiction thriller A Scanner Darkly, although the latter was first shot digitally, and then animated using interpolated rotoscope. Apart from the dream-like graphics, the story is rich in references to betrayal, jealousy and one’s sense of duty.
The thundering plot serves to challenge our concept of humanity – a struggle which is made all the more compelling by the zipping gun shots and sparse murmurs. Interestingly, the tragic love triangle near the heart of the story – but never at its core – could be perceived as a Korean rendition of a dystopian Romeo and Juliet. The charring brutality of the protagonists’ circumstances is complemented by a soul-stirring soundtrack [see: Mar’s theme], adding layers to a timeless story of oppression and sacrifice. The major themes of the film are environmental pollution, class struggle and love.