Deep Sea (Fantasia International Film Festival 2023 Review)

Mark Pacis

Deep Sea

The expression “every frame looks like a painting” often gets thrown around. Two of the best-animated films this year, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, are perfect examples. However, the expression “every frame looks like a painting” can be used to discuss Tian Xiaopeng’s Deep Sea. The film is an astonishing artistic achievement that took Xiaopeng seven years to develop a visual style. For Deep Sea, he and his team created a graphical effect called “particle ink painting” inspired by the xieyi style. Xieyi means to write out of something in artists’ hearts or minds instead of something in their eyes. In other words, artists use xieyi to “express the thoughts of feelings of the artists [to paint] the spirit of the objects is the core of Chinese xieyi painting.” He uses traditional abstract ink paintings to generate 3D images organically. 

As a result, Deep Sea is unlike anything you’ve seen before. The animation utilizes every color imaginable with breathtaking, vibrant, and kaleidoscopic sequences. Many of the film’s underwater sequences resemble an animated version of Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” painting. Not to mention, many colors are constantly swirling, like watercolor paintings in these scenes—adding more color as some things swim past. All in all, the extraordinary animation sets it apart from other animated films because it feels like a brilliant, one-of-a-kind dive into pure imagination with an homage to Studio Ghibli at its core.

 Deep Sea is unlike anything you’ve seen before, but its visual artistry is offset by its lackluster narrative.

Unfortunately, the narrative elements can’t keep up with the visual flairs of the film. Sadly, its lackluster narrative is offset by what it accomplishes with its visual artistry. Shenxiu is undeveloped, and as a result, her arc gets lost in the chaos. Nanhe, on the other hand, is a much more exciting character in the film. The movie constantly loses steam because you aren’t attached to her as you should be. Nevertheless, the moving and heart-wrenching third act delivers a powerful emotional mark that makes you look back at the film in a new light. Xiaopeng’s themes about child neglect and depression provide a great message about receiving help and having someone with you to defeat the darkness.

Even with such an innovative and original style, it’s hard to forgive Deep Sea for its narrative shortcomings. Still, Deep Sea is another example that animation is not just for kids. As Guillermo del Toro said, “Animation is a medium, not a genre- nor an interest for kids & families only.”

Rating: 3/5 atoms

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