Posted : 2012-08-07 18:59
Updated : 2012-08-07 18:59

Putting warm, fuzzy spin on Mother Nature

A scene from “Tears in the Antarctic,” a re-interpretation of MBC’s eponymous documentary series by directors Kim Jin-man and Kim Jae-yeong, shows adult emperor penguins and chicks gathered to withstand the South Pole chill. The film opens today in selected theaters.
/ Courtesy of All That Cinema

By Kwaak Je-yup

Slavoj Zizek, one of today’s most popular thinkers and known for his cynical wit, urged caution in a recent lecture in Seoul against the belief that nature is guided by a mysterious benevolent force. “If nature is a mother, she’s a bitch of a mother,” he said, citing inexplicable natural disasters as evidence.

But philosophers like him have not deterred many from drawing comparisons between natural phenomena and human values.

“Tears in the Antarctic,” based on MBC’s popular documentary series of the same name, does exactly that, packaging the emperor penguins’ yearly mating rituals with a narrative that often directly contradicts scientific reality.

At the press screening last week, producers Kim Jin-man and Kim Jae-yeong explained that the documentary version, without creative flair, was aired on the network TV’s six-part series last December; they wanted to try something new this time. This one is story,” the former said, a complete departure in genre to target the family audience.

There is something about penguins that arouses human sympathy: its serene external beauty plays a major part. And the creators of this fiction seized on this emotion and produced, indeed, a story about two baby penguins that grow up from eggs to mature adults. (The Korean release title is “Peng-i and Som-i,” after the cutesy names the writers gave to the two avian protagonists.)

There is no leash on imagination. Meaningless happenings are given undue significance. The most powerful scene, the “adoption” of a parentless chick by another adult bird is actually due to the grown-up creature’s inability to correctly identify the real child.

Like it or not, it is a major achievement for the producers to create a coherent story out of countless hours of footage. It is, of course, helped by the indistinguishable appearance of all the birds; it is never clear if the birds identified as Peng-i and Som-i are the same throughout the film. “We suspect that sometimes the birds’ identities are swapped during the film, too,” said Kim Jin-man during the press conference.

Documentary fans will remember the controversy surrounding the Oscar-winning film “March of the Emperor,” whose original French version, narrated in first-person form, was accused of too much imagination. Even the more traditional American version, narrated in third person by Morgan Freeman and strictly abiding by documentary standards, unexpectedly attracted scores of conservative Christians looking for parallels between the penguin “families” and their human counterparts.

Whether this new MBC film will spawn similar sociological phenomena or not is still to be seen. And the jury is also still out on whether this “story” fuels blatant misinformation.

But adult audiences will at least be able to savor the high-quality pictures, especially in 3D, the first for a feature filmed in Antarctica. Serious viewers should opt for the original aired on TV.

Song Joong-ki, one of today’s hottest young stars and his attractive baritone voice, reprises his narrator role after his first stint on television.

“Tears in the Antarctic” opens in selected theaters today in 3D and 2D formats. Runs for 79 minutes. Rated for general audience. Distributed by Mountain Pictures.
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