Writing a synopsis for Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun’s epic animated tale, is one of the hardest jobs a reviewer will ever undertake. For even by Eastern standards, Big Fish and Begonia is way out there.
In the most simple terms we can muster, Big Fish is the story of Chun, a young girl coming of age in a mystical world that exists out of reach of us mortal humans. A world that controls the tides of the sea and changing of the seasons (based loosely on old Chinese legends).
When Chun turns sixteen, her journey involves turning into a dolphin and travelling up a giant funnel of water to visit Earth.
While there, she is to observe her surroundings and avoid contact with the human race. To the surprise of nobody, Chun breaks the no contact rule when she’s caught up in a fisherman’s net and a sweet young man comes to save her. Caught in a swell, the young man drowns, so Chun returns to her own realm with a broken heart. But she’s not giving up all hope.
Knowing that the souls of the dead are kept by a weird fat guy with a cat fetish, Chun begs to have the young man’s life restored. The mean fat guy allows this, but only at a cost.
So Chun ends up with a baby dolphin that will, apparently and eventually, turn back into the young man she saved. But the cost of her actions are going to be both incredibly far-reaching, and utterly, utterly bizarre.
The trippy nature of what follows may border on the baffling, yet the core of the story is surprisingly easy to follow. As Chun attempts to protect her little fish while the world around her begins to fall apart, it’s not hard to understand where the danger is coming from.
And that’s even more impressive given that the story lacks a bona fide villain. Weird rat lady and fat cat man are creepy, and their motives questionable, but they’re not the bad guys by definition. Indeed, our hero Chun is more likely to plead guilty in a kangaroo court should the sequel take that direction.
The animation is largely CGI, but in a hand drawn style, providing an eminently watchable and at times beautifully odd spectacle. It’s part Studio Ghibli, part fever dream. But for all it’s confusing images, Big Fish and Begonia is an amazing watch, if not quite a masterpiece.
The film is in UK and Ireland cinemas NOW!