The bloom of first love can be beautiful and dizzying, rattling our conceptions of the world itself. This rush of feelings is elegantly captured in the Big Fish and Begonia, a sentimental story of boy meets dolphin.
Bear with me.
Inspired by ancient Chinese legends, Big Fish and Begonia spins the beguiling story of Chun and Kun, lovers from very different worlds. She is an “Other,” human-looking but magical creatures who help guide nature. When Chun reaches 16, she is welcomed into a rite of passage that transforms her into a red dolphin and allows her to visit the world of man, though she is warned to keep her distance from them. As a dolphin, she witnesses from afar the wonders of mankind’s ingenuity in architecture, boat-building, religious traditions, and fireworks. But she also sees the merciless capture and slaughter of dolphins like her.
One fateful day, she comes across a handsome boy in a boat. They swim together, and a spark ignites. When she is later trapped in a fisherman’s net, he will rush into the waves to save her, losing his life in the struggle. But this is not the end, just the top of act two. Chun returns to her homeland desperate to resurrect the boy who saved her. Her journey involves self-sacrifice, alienation, and the boy’s soul taking the shape of a baby dolphin that she must nurture to maturity so he might return to the life he’d known.
Writers/directors Xuan Liang and Chun Zhang weave an unusual tale of romance as most of their lovers’ screentime is when one or the other is a dolphin. Yet that allows for their love to feel sweetly chaste. Theirs is a connection beyond words and beyond logic. It is instant, rapturous, and visually glorious. This fantastical world is both their challenge and playground, threatening them with fearful foes made of fire and wind, but also blessing them with scenes where an adorable baby dolphin with a unicorn’s horn dances through a stormy sky as Chun’s outstretched arms manifest flowing vines.
Perhaps because I’m completely unfamiliar with the legends on which it’s based, Big Fish and Begonia occasionally confused me as the plot spins into a cataclysmic climax, then into a jarringly prolonged resolution. But frankly, this movie is so prettily enchanting it’s hard to care if it all made sense or not.
Liang and Zhang have worked for 12 years to bring their dream project to the big screen, and in the wake of its runaway success in China, it’s now hitting American shores. Surely, some of its depth may be lost in translation. But the filmmakers’ blend of hand-drawn and CG animation is breathtaking, bringing surprise and an electrifying vibrancy to Chun’s unfurling odyssey through mice-infested caves, snow-whipping wastelands, and majestic seascapes. On top of that, there’s a careful attention to gesture that brings characters to life with the flick of the wrist or the roll of an eye.
Big Fish and Begonia offers audiences a richly realized world with a fascinating tale, and a blushing romance. It’s absolutely lovely, tip to tail.
Big Fish And Begonia opens in limited release on April 6th. A national rollout will follow on April 11th.