Romantic Rocket Punches: Satellite Girl and Milk Cow

This film was part of the 2015 New York International Children’s Film Festival

Years ago for a final project in college, I created a comic about a girl who delivers piles of garbage around the world. The concept was intentionally strange, as my goal in creating it was to make the comic feel just earnest enough that readers would question just how serious I was. Upon seeing the Korean animated film Satellite Girl and Milk Cow at the New York International Children’s Film Festival, I found myself having the same experience I intended for my audience, and perhaps because of this I feel a bit of a connection to this film.

Satellite Girl and Milk Cow follows a dormant Korean satellite Il-ho who comes back to life after hearing the singing of a mediocre musician named Gyeong-cheon. Mysteriously transforming into a human-looking girl in order to find him, it turns out Kyung-chun has had his own change as well: due to heartbreak, he’s become a cow. As the two of them learn about each other, they have to deal with a magician that steals animal livers using a plunger and a a robot demon that devours people who have become animals, all while being helped by a sentient and magic roll of toilet paper named Merlin. How did any of this happen? Was it magic? Technology? The film certainly doesn’t bother to explain much, but that’s also its charm. The story unfolds at a rapid pace filled with both absurd and deadpan humor while always treating its characters’ feelings as just genuine enough that it really leaves an impression. It’s nonsense most of the time, but who said nonsense couldn’t be the source of a whole range of thoughts and feelings?

Visually, the film is very basic yet serviceable, though on more than one occasion it becomes very clear where shortcuts were used in animation. I don’t mean to say that it’s wrong to “cheat” on animation, as on some level it’s so much work to animate something that I expect it to happen, but at times an overuse of motion tweening (when things slide along a little too smoothly) and some awkward stills and camera zooms really stick out in Satellite Girl and Milk Cow. Even so, I find that these small issues don’t really detract from the main bizarre thrust of the film, and the numerous sight gags worked just fine. Not to give away too much, but my favorite gags involve Il-ho’s ability to launch rocket punches, and the considerations she makes in terms of rocket punch storage.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Satellite Girl and Milk Cow outside of the film itself is the fact that it was the poster movie for the 2015 New York International Children’s Film Festival. Knowing absolutely nothing about the film prior to seeing it other than the promotional poster, I think it lives up to its role as the face of the festival for this year. The kids in the audience seemed to love it (or at least were caught up enough in the oddities of the film to have it keep their attention), and while of the films I saw I liked When Marnie Was There best, Satellite Girl & Milk Cow to me feels like a film that has wide appeal across age groups as long as you’re someone who can get into its unusual groove. It’s the kind of film that’s really difficult to riff on, because every time you think you’re saying something clever, Satellite Girl and Milk Cow will seemingly wink back at you with one eye, while starring at you with utter conviction using the other.

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Easily Misconstrued Title: Taekwon V Invades Japan

On August 7th, Robot Taekwon V makes its Japanese theatrical debut.

A Korean animated film from the 1970s about a super robot utilizing the power of Taekwondo, Taekwon V was thought to be “lost” for many years, in the sense that no good copy of the film could be found. This all changed in 2007 when an excellent-quality print was discovered.

Though Korean in origin, Taekwon V is clearly based off of the Japanese Mazinger Z, a similarity that its creator Kim Cheong-gi acknowledges, stating that he wanted to create a Korean hero for Korean children and simply assuming that this was the way robots were supposed to look.

While the bad blood extends well past animation and into the irredeemable treatment the people of Korea faced at the hands of the Japanese occupation before and during World War II, in this narrow scope the issue has always been the idea that “Korea just copies Japanese animation.” My previous post about this topic generated quite a bit of controversy and discussion, so take a look if you feel so inclined. By the way, I still maintain my stance, even if the movie features animation ripped straight of Bambi.

This is why it’s all the more amazing that Taekwon V is actually getting shown in Japan, even if it’s at only a single theater. No doubt it’s going to generate more racial slurs on the internet, but in a way I feel like it’s a big step forward. Also, I don’t think anyone can really blame a 30+ year old cartoon from an era with an almost non-existent animation industry for having taken some shortcuts. Well actually, you can, but I think looking at it in terms of copying/not copying is only seeing one side of a much more complex shape. There’s plain old “making stuff people enjoy regardless of how it’s made,” also plain old “making profit,” and other aspects as well.

By the way, the movie will be in Korean with Japanese subtitles, so sorry English speakers living in Japan who might be able to actually see it.

The trailer for all of you cool cats:

As well as an incendiary video from a while back:

Not Plagiarism: Robot Taekwon V

“Robot Taekwon V” is a cartoon that captivated children’s imaginations in the 1970s, and had numerous sequels and remakes through the years. Recently, it was remastered for its 30th anniversary thanks to a lucky discovery of an undamaged print. If you’ve never heard of the Japanese anime Taekwon V, don’t be alarmed.

Because it’s Korean.

Looking at Taekwon V itself, “Mazinger Z” is probably the first thing that pops into your head. The resemblance is unmistakable, and it could easily fit into Nagai Go’s Giant Robot Pantheon. I’ve seen people online, mostly aggressive Japanese posters, decrying Taekwon V as a rip-off, a sign of plagiarism and uncreativity. The director Kim Cheong-gi has gone on the record stating the obvious influence that Mazinger Z had on his design. At the time, Mazinger Z was very popular in Korea and Kim wanted to created a Korean Super Robot so that kids would appreciate Korean culture. The likely scenario is that at the time he thought Mazinger Z was what all super robots should look like, so it’s no wonder that they look similar. That isn’t the reason why I say it’s not plagiarism though.

Taekwon V fights using its namesake, Taekwondo, and its animation reflects this fact. Mazinger Z and in fact every other super robot has never used Taekwondo. While Taekwon V resembles Mazinger Z heavily, its poses, mannerisms, and actions set it apart. Taekwon V is able to follow the movements of its pilot, a Taekwondo champion himself, two years before Daimos. It even has unique attacks, most notably its Rocket Chop (I don’t know the actual name for this), where Taekwon V makes a horizontal, back-handed chopping motion while simultaneously launching its hand to give it some added destructive momentum.

If it looks like a duck, but doesn’t walk like a duck, and it quacks in Korean, then it is Taekwon V.

By the way, this reasoning does not necessarily apply to other Korean Giant Robot shows. I’m looking at you, Space Gundam V.