I saw the trailer for Mr.Go for the first time when i went to Korean Film Festival earlier this year. The film is highly promoted and it generates quite a buzz since it’s the first South Korean film shot entirely in 3D. Kim Yong-hwa adapted the story about Ling Ling the 45 years-old gorilla and his 15 years old trainer, Wei Wei, from a 1984 korean manhwa The 7th Team (제7구단) by Huh Young-man.
Wei Wei (Xu Jiao) was born without knowing her parents in a circus, the ringmaster entrusted her in the hand of Ling Ling. The two bonded and shared the ringmaster interest in baseball, which later inspired their circus act. Tragedy happened when the Great Sechuan Earthquake wiped the circus, killing the ringmaster, and almost killed Wei Wei if not for Ling Ling effort to search for her amongst the ruins. The earthquake not only forced the circus to relocate to sino-korean border town, Yanbian, and left the adolescent Wei Wei in charge, she also must find a way to cover the insuperable debt to a loan shark. An aide came from a ‘bounty hunter’ korean sports agent Sung Chun-su (Song Dong-il) who recruited Ling Ling to join Doosan Bears, a south korean baseball team, as a batter. More hilarity awaits involving Hinoki trees, questioning if gorilla eats kimchi, what happened if a ball turns to shreds, and unfortunate haircut.
Growing up watching Free Willy and Lassie, i always fond of the portrayal of human-animal bond in films, even as an adult i enjoyed War Horse and Hachiko. So i went to Mr Go expecting this would be the case as well, the alteration is the film is set against sports background (baseball). The thing that made human-animal bond interesting are mostly because the ability of the two communicate and become each other counterparts. Although the film depicts an extensive background of how Ling Ling and Wei Wei bonded including early heartwarming scenes when Ling Ling saved the barely breathing Wei Wei from the earthquake rubbles and when Ling Ling put his large hand over Wei Wei to shelter her from the rain. I can’t help but feel there’s a lack of connection there and i question Wei Wei emotional outbreaks and motivation throughout the entire film journey, and i don’t think i can blame it to just teenage hormones, do i? But Ling Ling stole my heart, quite similar to Andy Serkis‘ Caesar in Rise of The Planet of The Apes.
Instead of understanding and emphatic towards Wei Wei – Ling Ling relationship, i’m more drawn to Sung Dong-il, shrill sports agent antic, as he redefined himself and his life after sharing one drunken night with Ling Ling. The interwoven conflicts and scandalous dirts that Sung Dong-il character represents in the film are a welcome alternative to the main storyline. I liked it that there are consequences for his greed and the corruptive sports organizations members, the fact that he did not end up unscathed is a plus. The film scene stealer is definitely Odagiri Joe as the owner of japanese baseball team, Chunichi Dragon with an unfortunate hair cut (that only works on ムック’s Yukke and boys under 10 years old). That being said, even when the film ends and the credit rolled, the thought that was left in my head was how ugly, callous, and selfish human being is… A quite sombre thought for what supposedly a people pleaser, PG-rated family film.
In the acting department, i feel Xu Jiao as Wei Wei the weakest performer in the film. Not merely because of the explosives temper and mood swings, which was weird and felt a tad dramatic and soap opera-ish, yet it does not help in engaging the audience in the level of emotional depth the character could have conveyed. I think i just can not figure out the logic that drives her character to made decisions in the film. There were a slight awkwardness when she interacts with Ling Ling, not only in an emotional sense but also in a more physical interaction sense. I think working with motion captured are difficult, as the audience i can only believe in the CGI when the actors interaction with the said CGI are believable as well. Comparing to the exaggerated, shrillness of Sung Dong-il as the notorious, money driven agent which had momentum where we could hate him for his greed and yet empathise when he had an emotional revelation. For me, his character definitely upstaged Wei Wei, and i believed it when i saw him bond with the gorilla. Of course being an adaptation for comic with the intention of putting a commercial appeal, i understand the need of exaggerated acts including the action sport sequence which can be both deliciously campy and yet amazingly choreographed.
I watched the film in 3D, naturally, so i could experience the hype of the film. There were moments at the beginning of the film where there are assorted characters that sort of break the 4th wall (but maybe not) and the camera moves around the circus sometimes in voyeuristic point of view that probably intended to made the audience feels like they were part of the scene or to show that was part of some kind of documentary/intros of Ling Ling and Wei Wei. The movement of the camera was a reminiscent of shaky handheld cam and it just made my eye tired and, ugh, made me nauseous. Thank heavens they did not do it for the whole film. Aside from that, i truly appreciate the wonderful motion captured, beautifully rendered gorilla! Each of 3.8 million of delicate and precise animated hairs on Ling Ling are a result of 4 years and 500 animators and CG professional works in developing facial and motion capture technology as well as digital fur production. The result are quite impressive and no wonder half of the budget of the film went to VFX department. While the VFX was good, i wish the film had tighter edit, because the duration was unnecessarily long and made the pace felt rather sloppy at some points.
In South Korea, Mr. Go was outperformed by numerous US and local blockbusters (such as The Wolverine Snowpiercer, The Terror Live), earning merely ₩ 9.3 billion from 1.325.227 admissions per August 17th. The film performed stronger in China earning US$17.5 in the first 15 days. The Huayi Brothers are the investors for the film from China who contributed a quarter of the film budget, which made Mr Go a film co-producted by both countries. The film is also released in South Asian countries, including Indonesia, exclusively screened at Blitzmegaplex theater chain since August 6th. Check their website for the screening schedule. There were funny and light moments in Mr Go that supposed to please those who were expecting commercial type of films. While i frown upon some of the scenes that i deemed violent, i think my opinon are those of a minority. The redeeming feature for me was not enough to made me want to gush about the film, but i’d still tell my friends to go see it anyway. Even if it’s just for the sake of Odagiri Joe.
And here’s Odagiri Joe in a bowl hair cut to thank you for your time :)
Mr. Go / 미스터 고 (2013)
GENRE Comedy, Drama
DIRECTOR Kim Yong-hwa | PRODUCER Yoo Jin-woo | WRITER Kim Yong-hwa | MUSIC Lee Jae-hak | CINEMATOGRAPHER Jeon Dae-seong, Park Hyeon-cheol | EDITOR Zino Kim | STUDIO Showbox | DISTRIBUTOR Showbox | COUNTRY South Korea, China | BUDGET $22.5 million | RUNNING TIME 132 minutes | RELEASE July 17, 2013 (South Korea), July 18, 2013 (China), August 6th, 2013 (Indonesia)
STARRING Xu Jiao, Sung Dong-il, Kim Kang-woo, Kim Jung-tae, Odagiri Joe