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Life is Cool
Life is Cool

Real life gets animated in Life is Cool.
Korean: 그녀는 예뻤다
Year: 2008  
Director: Choi Ik-Hwan  
  Writer: Choi Ik-Hwan

Kim Soo-Ro, Kang Seong-Jin, Kim Jin-Soo, Park Ye-Jin, Lee Chae-Young, Kamil Ward, Lee Won, Jeong Yoon-Min

  The Skinny: Korea's first full-length rotoscope animation movie is surprisingly not only a gimmick. Ultimately, the animation nicely enhances this enjoyable look at the lives of three men in the big city.
Kevin Ma:
Life is Cool opens with an English-language theme song that proclaims that "life is so cool from a different point of view". Writer-director Choi Ik-Hwan tries to push that point hard by using rotoscoping, a process that involves animating every frame of a film after it's been shot in live-action. While Richard Linklater used the technique in A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life to manipulate reality in a hypnotic fashion, Life is Cool is more like a Korean male version of Sex and the City, featuring the trials and tribulations of three lifelong friends in the big city. This kind of story isn't likely to come to anyone's mind as one that needs the animation treatment, especially considering that the film is good enough even without the rotoscoping.

Despite the two years needed to complete the process, rotoscope animation also has its advantages. Since everything will be animated later on, the film's physical shoot becomes much easier. On the DVD, one can see a side-by-side comparison of the animated version and the live-action version. It shows that even though the filmmakers did physically shoot almost every single shot in live-action, the live shots often show crew members, other cameras, and boom mics on the set. The toughest job goes to the animators then, who not only have to remove objects and people that don't belong in the film, but they also have to animate everything else that's in them.

Mainly, what the technique does successfully is add a bit of color to lives that wouldn't normally be considered as colorful. This applies to the three central characters: Il-Kwon (Kim Soo-Ro), a police officer who is also an aspiring womanizer; Tae-Young (Kang Seong-Jin), an English teacher with a troubled romantic past; and Seong-Hoon (Kim Jin-Soo), an interpreter whose only talents are speaking English and cooking. The three are reunited when Il-Kwon returns from studying abroad in America and immediately begins a search for a wife before he's due to return to America for his phD. Being the womanizer that he is, Il-Kwon finally narrows his choice down to the young Mi-Yeong (Lee Chae-Young) or the older-and-wiser Yeon-Woo (Park Ye-Jin). The trouble is that he doesn't know that Yeon-Woo was Tae-Young's college sweetheart and their break-up left a prolonged effect on Tae-Young that hasn't quite gone away yet. To add to that mess, Seong-Hoon also falls for Yeon-Woo when he finds out that her English name is Jennifer, a name that he's been obsessed with since his teenage years.

Despite a plotless first act with constant digressions into character backgrounds, Life is Cool deserves to be more seen as more than just "that rotoscoping movie". Even without the technique, Choi has crafted an interesting set of characters that feel authentic despite their physical appearance suggesting otherwise. Instead of encountering the usual terminal illnesses or violent gangsters seen in Korean films, these three men actually have problems that the audience can identify with in real life. However, Yeon-Woo's final choice in the romance plot feels too perfunctory and too simple for the romantic entanglement Choi has set up. It's the only sour note in the story.

The strengths of the script and the story don't mean that the rotoscoping process is simply a gimmick. The technique allows Choi to pull off things that would seem absurd in real life, but can be made believable in the animated world (Is that Jennifer Aniston?!). Other scenes, such as Yeon-Woo gliding along a basketball court floor (shot in live-action with actress Park Ye-Jin navigating the court on rollerskates) and a mid-air group waltz at the end of the film, even add a touch of magical realism that one might not expect from such a film.

But the animation sometimes undermines the actors' performances. While the antics of the expressive Kim Soo-Ro remain intact in animated form, most of the other actors' expressions aren't felt after the rotoscoping process. Perhaps due to the technology's infancy in Korea, the strange animated "acting" takes some time to get used to. The biggest victim of this is actually Park Ye-Jin. As the central object of affection, the three men always refer to Yeon-Woo's mature beauty. However, the animated modification fails to carry over her beauty in real life (seen in the aforementioned side-by-side comparison), possibly leaving causing some head scratching over these men's obsession with such an average-looking rotoscoped human being. On the other hand, the animators actually improve upon Kang Seong-Jin's appearance, making Tae-Young a more believable romantic lead.

Fortunately, looks aren't everything in Life is Cool. Even though the rotoscoping adds an attractive layer (and an extra selling point) to the proceedings, Choi doesn't forget that his primary goal is to tell a story. The title and the central message of the film may hinge on the use of rotoscoping, but Choi would've made a fairly strong indie film even in live-action. Life is Cool is really a double-edged sword; it doesn't need the fancy animation to be a good film, but not having it would make it an indie film with no investors. Choi should have had enough faith in his script to realize that life is already cool even without seeing it from a different point of view. Then again, looking at it from this point of view really is pretty damn cool. (Kevin Ma, 2008)


DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
CJ Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean subtitles
Various Extras

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image credit: Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen