Zlín Film Fest Review: ‘Kai’ a Solid South Korean Animated Film
A young man seeking to prove himself and save his small village takes on no less than the spirit of winter itself in Kai, a diverting little animated feature from South Korea set in the grasslands of Central Asia centuries ago.
Here, one of the biggest threats to life is the climate itself: a strong winter can wreak havoc on crops, and ultimately lead to tragedy among those who inhabit the land.
That’s visualized here, as it is in many other forms of folklore, by an actual character: Hattan, the Snow Queen, who uses a pack of wolves to freeze the grasslands and its inhabitants - unless someone can stop her.
That someone is the titular Kai, who sets out on a journey to protect his village from the winter Snow Queen and prove his worth as a man after his village elders fail to do so and become frozen in the process.
Only Kai will have a surprise in store once he reaches Hattai’s icy fortress: the Queen’s servant is none-other than his own long-lost sister, who was thrown off a cliff during an avalanche in the film’s prologue.
While establishing the basics of the film’s world, it takes a good half hour before Kai settles into its groove; initial scenes are slowly paced, deadly serious, and unlikely to appeal to younger children.
Once Kai sets off on his journey, however, the film’s appeal ratchets up with the addition of some colorful (and cuddly) Miyazaki-like creatures in supporting roles and an arrogant comedy relief sidekick who eventually earns Kai’s respect.
Director Seong-gang Lee (My Beautiful Girl, Mari and Yobi, the Five Tailed Fox) gives the computer animation in the film a traditional 2D look, but the striking backgrounds, which often look like they were hand-painted with watercolors, lends the film a unique texture.
Kai won’t hold a lot of appeal for adults - though the setting is different, the story is a familiar one - but for younger audiences that can get past past a slow beginning, this is a thrilling adventure story with lots of heart and a positive message.