Dystopian visions of the future offer a fantastical perspective from which to examine socio-cultural anxiety of the era. From Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis and Katsuhiro Otomo’s classic Akira (1988), to more contemporary fare such as The Day After Tomorrow (2004), District 9 (2009) and Star Trek (2009), the dystopian realm is a place to dissect humanity’s overly ambitious use of technology and the class divisions that were of such incredible concern for Karl Marx.
Wonderful Days (원더풀 데이즈) also addresses such themes within its science-fiction narrative, yet despite the sumptuous animation unfortunately offers precious little originality due to a woefully bland narrative.
In the year 2142, humankind is almost extinct due to global warming and continuous acid rain storms that have fallen for 100 years. Foreseeing the impending catastrophe, scientists built a ‘living’ city called Ecoban for future generations to inhabit, yet after the events that reduced the population by billions the remaining survivors were denied sanctuary. Instead, the ‘Diggers’ were forced into the wasteland to mine for carbonite, the fuel source that Ecoban and its denizens rely upon. As the various revolutions come to nothing, a young man named Shua (수아) decides to sabotage Ecoban’s fuel tanks once and for all, but standing in his path are female soldier Jay (즈아) and her commander Cade (크아드).
Wonderful Days is visually impressive, employing 3D textures for landscapes and vehicles amalgamated with 2D animation for the protagonists that use them. Shortly after the opening scenes, the ‘terrorist’ Shua enters Ecoban through a mask dance festival in order to sabotage the generators within, leading to an action sequence that displays the keen prowess of the animators involved. However, such impressive visuals are one of the few scant positives in Wonderful Days as the narrative itself is incredibly dull and uninspired, with enormous plot holes that in certain instances render the events as ridiculous. At approximately 86 minutes long it is also frustratingly short as there is ample time to further explore the potential that Wonderful Days alludes to. The fundamental societal issues – the devastation of Earth and the class divide – are barely explored despite their importance within the narrative. Considering neighbouring Japan has produced arguably the seminal animated films relating to such anxieties in the form of Princess Mononoke (1997), Castle in the Sky (1986) and Akira to name a few, it’s all the more baffling that writer/director Kim Moon-saeng (김문생) didn’t seek inspiration for an alternative interpretation of a dystopian nightmare.
Instead, a rather bizarre and remotely explained romantic triangle tends to dominant the proceedings, as well as an array of 2 dimensional characters that flit in and out of the narrative that offer little other than irritation. The romance is incredibly contrived and forced as the center-point of the plot, attempting to be akin to Romeo and Juliet as lovers from different backgrounds, but it ultimately fails due to the lack of character depth and defining moments, as well as the staggering leap of disbelief required.
The class struggle is interesting as descension spreads and riots break out, but again the lack of exploration into the world inhabited by the Diggers fails to convey the intensity and anger felt by the underprivileged. The characters that feature within the wastelands occupied by the working classes are generic stereotypes that do nothing to portray or promote their cause as just, and are so unlikeable and downright stupid that it almost becomes difficult to distinguish which side should emerge victorious.
Despite the attractive visuals, Wonderful Days is a hollow film that is devoid of any depth. This is perplexing as there is a wealth of potential in the exploration of dystopian futures, technological abominations and class warfare, but in attempting to force a contrived romantic story as its center-piece Wonderful Days fails to entertain or enlighten.