What follows is a Padak: Swimming to Sea review. It’s a South-Korean animated film with subtitles. My (young adult) daughter has a way of introducing me to movies I would have otherwise never seen. This one was an interesting watch, but definitely not one for the kids. In the end, I had to question whether or not I was glad I had seen it.
Partway into Padak: Swimming to Sea, a CGI-animated South Korean film, a fish lays on the chopping block, ready to be served for dinner. This fish knows his fate and watches as diners eat his brethren, some still alive on the plate. Focus in on his shock-wide, flounder eyes, and I realize a new film genre has been born: Piscine Horror.
The main character of the film is a mackerel trapped, along with many other fishes, in a tank in front of a grocery store. If you’re a watcher of Pixar films, it’s a scenario that’s sure to bring to mind the fish tank part of Finding Nemo. But this isn’t a coral reef aquarium in a dental office, and the threat here is more significant than Darla.
This aquarium is the kind where shoppers come to buy dinner, and the inmates know that. The leader of the group is an old flatfish. This codger has stayed alive as long as he has through a combination of hiding under a plate in the tank and playing dead — a strategy he enforced on his tankmates.
Mackerel is new, however, and challenges his authority, which makes part of the drama in the film. She is fresh-caught, and, unlike most of her tankmates, recalls life in the ocean and strives to return to it.
But, amid the piscine horror, there are also some gems to be found: some satisfyingly surreal scenes with lovely music emerge suddenly from the depths. And, at times, the characters having to come to grips with their inevitable demise was moving, though not uplifting.
And that’s something you don’t often find in American animated films: the willingness to confront some of the so-called “darker” aspects of life face-on. This film does not sugarcoat. And it ends, perhaps, with a glimmer of hope amid all of the despair.
You won’t find Nemo here and should reconsider whether you want to bring the kids here looking for him. But you might find something worth spending 90 minutes on, especially if you’re a fan of the more disturbing side of animation.
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