J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

NYICFF ’15: Satellite Girl and Milk Cow

KITSAT-1 is sort of like Skylab, but when she fell to Earth, she turned into a girl. Kyung-chun used to be a boy, which would have made them a good match, but he turned into a cow, because that sort of thing regularly happens to the broken hearted in this world. So maybe she is a bit stiff and he is a bit bovine—love can still find a way in Jang Hyung-yun’s Satellite Girl and Milk Cow (trailer here), which screens during the 2015 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

KITSAT-1 was Korea’s first satellite, but hardly anyone notices when she goes on the fritz. After decades of observing Koreans from all walks of life, she wants to join in. She will have the opportunity thanks to Merlin, who has assumed the form of a roll of toilet paper, because he could. Suddenly Kyung-chun is sharing his apartment with Il-ho, as KITSAT-1 now calls herself, and the wizard himself. At least thanks to Merlin’s help, Kyung-chun is able to temporarily return to his prior human appearance in a magical suit that is logically made out of enchanted toilet paper.

It turns out Kyung-chun could actually use the help going incognito. Lately, he has been stalked by a shadowy poacher, whose employer covets the reputed power that comes from ingesting the organs of broken-hearted changelings like Kyung-chun. Fortunately, Il-ho is there to protect him with her Inspector Gadget-like projectile limbs, in between their bickering.

SG&MC sounds completely bonkers and it probably is, but it feels relatively normal in the moment. Things just work differently in its world—roll with it. In fact, the vibe is more closely akin to a Korean rom-com. It’s your basic satellite meets moo cow story. However, nobody dies from cancer at the end, so it stays safely in rom-com territory rather than taking on the tone of a tragically romantic blockbuster.

Throughout the film, Jang maintains an appealing mix of sweetness and goofiness. After all, it is easy to identify with Kyung-chun because everyone has had their hearts ripped out, stomped to pieces, and then kicked into their faces at some point in time. He gets a key assist from Hong Sang-soo regular Jung Yu-mi (Oki’s Movie, In Another Country), who charming voiceover performance brings the awkward but earnest Il-ho fully to life.

This is a gentle film that should be perfectly appropriate for kids of eight years and older (as per the festival’s guidelines), but it will be the parents and big kids who fully appreciate its wackiness and empathy for the lovelorn. Jang’s animation is not exactly Studio Ghibli quality (to which it has been compared), but it has a lot of character and a healthy energy level. Highly recommended for those who can get behind some idiosyncratically romantic animation, Satellite Girl and Milk Cow screens again this coming Saturday (3/14) at the SVA Theatre, as part of this year’s NYICFF.

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