“Big Fish and Begonia,” a Chinese fairy tale about an nearly immortal girl named Chun whose life becomes entwined with a mortal boy, is a gorgeous, stunningly visual film and a profound meditation on life, love, and mortality.
Have your tissues ready as it’s an often heartbreaking journey as Chun defies her parents, culture, and destiny to do what she feels is right.
In Chun’s world, which is somewhere between humans and gods, all 16-year-olds spend a week among humans as a rite of passage. Chun is transformed into a red dolphin and marvels at the wonders of the human world — but then sees its ugliness and death.
When she is caught in a fishing net, a boy about her age rushes to her rescue, but at the cost of his own life. Back in her own world, Chun can’t stop thinking about him — and is willing to do whatever it takes to restore him to his heartbroken little sister.
Like Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece “Spirited Away,” the film is full of magical beings, strange creatures, mythical worlds, and unforeseen plot twists. It also features a determined heroine who is wiser than her parents — and far more attuned with the various worlds she finds herself in.
This movie (which is from the same studio as “The Legend of Korra”) reminded me of the recent film “The Red Turtle,” in which a man stranded on a desert island forms a bond with a turtle who is intent on keeping him there. But where that story depends on cruelty as the starting point for its transformative love story, in “Big Fish and Begonia,” the only real cruelty is the difference between their two spheres, and the inevitability of death in both worlds.
The celebration of beings in all forms, whether, animal, human, or god, is palpable. There are cranky cats, helpful mice, a two-headed snake and a bartender centaur, for starters. But the scenes with the dolphins swimming (or flying through the air) is the most joyous. When Chun and Kun are together, they can fly. Apart, they flounder.
There are simply stunning scenes, such as the one where a stone lion, who serves as gatekeeper between the two worlds, awakens at Chun’s arrival. And the scenes that explain why “Begonia” is a key part of the title show us that even after death, there can be life.
The movie is co-directed by Zhang Chun and Liang Xuan, who worked on it for more than 10 years. The love and care is evident in every frame. Please go see this lovely film.
“Big Fish and Begonia” is now playing in limited release.
Rating (4 Paws up):