[Fantasia 2019] The Moon in the Hidden Woods, A Movie Review

31 Jul

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

CAST: Lee Jihyon, Jung Yoojung, Kim Yul

When the Moon is longer illuminating the night sky, the kingdom around Trade City is thrown into chaos. Muju, the red sky, is like Sauron from Lord of the Rings. What he wants is to destroy the world. His agent, Count Tar is far more dangerous than anyone can realize. But when the Moon no longer rose from Twilight (it’s resting place) to bring peace throughout the land, the protectors disappeared.

People started to talk. Rituals to honour this lunar deity stopped. The brave went across the desert wasteland to find the Moon in the Hidden Woods.  This apt title sets the tone of this South Korean animated film which borrows heavily on local folklore and the Hero’s Journey to tell its tale.

At the same time, the Western tones include fantastic backdrops to show the maddening chaos which is to come. Shades of Van Gogh’s Starry Night are noticeable whenever Muju makes its presence known. There’s even some HP Lovecraft style omniscience too.

The royal court also has their own problems to face. The evil Count Tar wants the throne. To have it means marrying Princess Navillera, the last royal figure after her parents died. No rocket science degree is needed to know who assassinated them. Even she knows it and spurns the Count. To escape him, she runs away and soon meets villagers, Janggu and his band of merry men–Sogo, Kkwaenggwari, Haegeum and Buk–who help.

I can see this film as an animated series if writer/director Takahiro Umehara (Beyblade, Hunter X Hunter: Phantom Rouge) wanted to make it so. This film has a lot to take in.

The mythical tones this work takes is very true to any culture; water is important but not everyone is going to understand the rabbit connection. In Asian traditions, this bunny is connected to not only the moon but also the water. It’s not just an astrological symbol. The mountain to which this kingdom lays has an underground river. When Count Tar holds the key to this important resource, nobody is the wiser, and the citizens in the lower regions of the kingdom are starving.

However, the Mononoke Hime influence cannot go unnoticed either. This count cannot halt Nature. Much like how industrialization was destroying the woods, humanity cannot stop certain forces from running its full course. No one seems likely to save the day. Thankfully, a prophecy about a forgotten moon princess and a knight is revealed and that’s when this film picks up. The action gets better as the tale moves along. Had this film been expanded to a television series, I’m sure the producers can offer at least two seasons. Plenty of supporting characters exist to make the expanding this world worthwhile. After all, Navillera and Janggu are a terrific team (and lovely couple), and this movie is only a glimpse of a tiny corner of a world that can easily be expanded upon ala Dune.

3½ Stars out of 5

This movie played at Fantasia 2019, on Sun July 28, 2019 at the Salle J.A. De Sève

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