The last couple of animated films I’ve seen from Korea have been Yeon Sang-ho’s powerful, perhaps even brutal films The King of Pigs and The Fake, both of which use the medium in a very distinctive style to present and criticise aspects of Korean society. This film, The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow is no less confident a feature debut for director Jang Hyung-yun, but it is much lighter fare, focusing as it does on romance, heartache, geostationary orbits and milking.
KITSAT-1, launched in 1992, was the first satellite to be launched into space by South Korea, and two decades of observing the Korean Peninsula has made her interested in people, and particularly curious about the human heart. As she circles the globe, she sees a young down-on-his-luck musician, Kyung-chun, playing in a bar, and it’s his song that brings her to earth when her systems begin to fail, in the form of a young girl, Il-ho. Il-ho is fascinated by Kyung-chun’s music and resolves to seek him out and convince him to play for her.
Meanwhile, Kyung-chun’s girlfriend has left him, and the resulting heartbreak turns him rather surprisingly into an anthropomorphic Holstein milk cow. It turns out that this condition is quite common for heartbroken humans, and there is a gigantic metal machine, called the Incinerator, that hunts them down… and now it’s coming for Kyung-chun. Perhaps the only people that can protect him are Il-ho, who still retains some of her true form’s attributes, and the wizard Merlin, who is out to destroy the Incinerator.
I should probably mention that apparently owing to an accident in his past, Merlin is currently inhabiting the form of a roll of high-quality toilet paper. It only seems to cramp his style a little.
The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow is loads of fun. It mashes together a real world in which the characters have jobs, pay rent and fall behind on their tuition fees with some truly whimsical character design and a good deal of heart in the central story. The film’s mix of the fantastical and the familiar make for surprisingly entertaining viewing — I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, honestly — and it’s a film that will entertain everyone from children to adults, so long as they enjoy a touch of the absurd.
The most obvious comparison for me to draw is with Japanese animation, particularly the output of Studio Ghibli, who have a long history of working with some similar themes. Some of the character design did remind me of the Japanese studio’s work, particularly the post-heartbreak animal characters, but Satellite Girl definitely has a unique voice, especially when it comes to the comedy in the script. It’s certainly a little less polished than a Ghibli film, but that’s hardly surprising given the disparity in budgets involved.
The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow is a charmingly cute indie picture that will entertain anyone who enjoys animated films, one that hopefully heralds the arrival of a new talented voice in Korean animation.
The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow is screening around Australia as part of KOFFIA 2014. See their site for ticket and schedule info!