Noodle Fish (KIM Jinman, 2012)
Reviewed by Darcy PAQUET
Noodle Fish is alone in the world. The puddle in which he lives takes only five seconds to circumnavigate. But the boundaries of his world are soon to expand.
One day, new friends appear in his midst, giving him someone to play with. But the three tadpoles (convex, as opposed to the concave Noodle Fish) transform before his eyes, growing tails and fins, and eventually legs and arms. When they become frogs, they leave him, saying, “To be a grown-up, you’ve got to get out of the water.”
This is good advice for a frog, but not so much for a fish. Nonetheless, it is a blessing of sorts for Noodle Fish, creating in him a lifelong desire to know what is on the other side of the water’s surface. Or perhaps it is a curse, because his stubborn will to escape the water will ultimately lead to his end.
The rains come, joining his puddle to the river, and Noodle Fish is released into the broader world. He meets other creatures, each of whom have their own perspective and vision of the sea and the world outside it. One fish (eaten before he can provide any help) sees the world in binaries: life and death, prey and predator, light and darkness. One fish has discovered that the world is round; he says, “I thought I was swimming forward, but I ended up coming back here. It’s like I’m always where I am, but the world around me keeps changing.” One fish interprets the world according to dimensions. Another fish sees the world as a constantly changing arrangement of atoms.
KIM Jin-man’s Noodle Fish has a look all of its own, given that he has more or less invented the medium of the noodle pinscreen. The animator’s canvas is a stack of dried noodle stalks of identical length, inspired by the metal pinscreen invented by Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker in Paris in 1935. Lit from the top, protruding noodles create shadows which trace the edges of each image. In contrast to the metallic, shiny surface of a metal pinscreen, the distinctive color of Korean wheat flour noodles creates a look that is often mistaken for sand animation.
In a way, the efforts of the fish to explain their world provide partial but accurate descriptions of the noodle pinscreen. There is a binary quality to the concave and convex shapes on the screen. The arrangement of the noodles create an illusion of movement, but the noodles themselves stay in the same location. As Noodle Fish comes closer to discovering the truth of the world outside the water, the boundaries of his knowledge expand rapidly. A turtle guru who lies at the surface of the water tells him that all his actions are determined by waves of energy (i.e. fingers pressing at the noodles). Then, is there no such thing as free will?
There is a kind of beauty to Noodle Fish’s final, desperate efforts to discover the nature of the world, and to exert his own free will. He leaps repeatedly out of the water, witnessing a world that almost defies understanding. But there’s a dark, and hilarious irony to the fate that awaits him: his plunge over the edge results in him becoming the animator’s lunch. Not grilled fish, but a bowl of hot noodles.
Darcy PAQUET is the founder of the website Koreanfilm.org, and the author of New Korean Cinema: Breaking the Waves (2009). He is a delegate for the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain and a programme consultant at the Udine Far East Film Festival in Italy. He recently launched the Wildflower Film Awards Korea, an annual awards ceremony for Korean independent and low-budget films. He also works occasionally as an actor, most recently in a small role in the SBS drama 3 Days. Darcy has been living in Seoul since 1997.