Deep Sea


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Deep Sea
"Though aimed at children, it’s so beautiful that viewers of all ages will find themselves enraptured." | Photo: Fantasia International Film Festival

The massive expansion in the tools available to animators over the past decade means that every year yields something new and thrilling. All that’s needed is for artists and storytellers with sufficient creativity to get access to those tools. Screening as part of the 2023 Fantasia International Film Festival, Deep Sea is a film which will bewitch audiences the instant they set eyes on it. Though aimed at children, it’s so beautiful that viewers of all ages will find themselves enraptured.

The child at the centre of it all is Shenxiu (voiced by Wang Ting Wen), a lonely young thing whose mother has left and whose father has a new partner and a new baby to dote on. Shenxiu adores the baby but feels neglected, especially when the family goes on a cruise and everybody seems to have forgotten that it’s her birthday – the only celebratory greeting she gets is from China Mobile. Seeking consolation, she remembers a story which her mother told her about a magical creature called the hijinx with the power to grant wishes. Before she knows it, she is swept overboard and finds herself adrift on the deep sea, clinging to an inflatable yellow duck ring, with a very strange companion.

This is where the film steps cleanly away from the Western animation tradition of lost children and cute animal friends. The hijinx – for so the creature is named – looks more like something from an HP Lovecraft story. It’s a seething, bubbling, slimy mass of tentacles, with multitudinous eyes appearing and disappearing at random. One imagines that the average adult would panic at the sight. Shenxiu, however, is a sweet-natured girl and quickly comes to see it as a friend. This is fortunate for the hijinx, as the bulk of the subsequent story takes place in a magical restaurant at the bottom of the sea, whose chef (Su Xin) wants to make it into a soup.

Shenxiu will need all her courage and creativity to survive what follows, but even as further perils present themselves, allies emerge from unexpected places. Though the chef looks (mostly) human, the other denizens of the deep take on a wide variety of forms, from beautifully observed fish who shimmer like traditional Chinese depictions of koi, to further tentacled curiosities. Director Tian Xiaopeng has a wonderful eye for the movement of currents beneath the sea, using shifting layers of light to create a fully three dimensional space, whilst up above he delivers a spectacular storm full of shifting clouds, bright lightning and surging, unpredictable waves. Every scene is rich and multifaceted, full of brilliant details. This is not only a joy to behold – it also helps viewers relate very easily to Shenxiu’s sense of being overwhelmed.

Is it all a dream? Time will tell – but as so often, the distinction between reality and dreams is not a straightforward one. Shenxiu is a spirited heroine whom kids will find it easy to relate to, and it’s a pleasure to see her opening up as she discovers that there’s more to the world than her worries. Lively and engaging throughout – albeit with some seriously scary moments – Deep Sea is a visual treat which you won’t want to miss.

Reviewed on: 08 Aug 2023
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Deep Sea packshot
A girl strays into the dreamy deep sea world. In the deepest part of the sea, all secrets are hidden.

Director: Tian Xiaopeng

Writer: Tian Xiaopeng

Starring: Tingwen Wang, Xin Su, Kuixing Teng, Yang Ting, Jing Ji, Haoran Guo

Year: 2023

Runtime: 112 minutes

Country: China

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