The Kingdom of the Abyss: A Splendor of Psychedelic Animation (review)

The Kingdom of the Abyss: A Splendor of Psychedelic Animation (review)

Provided you accept its carnivalesque catalog of bizarre inventions and ultra-colorful finds, this Chinese animated film will take you far, beyond the surface of the big screen.

A completely psychedelic animated film, visually maddening, which turns your brain… We know that we do this to you often. In the case of Abyss RealmHowever, it is 100%, 150%, 200% true. So much so that we will start by advising you, once is not customary, to discover the film in French version. In fact, we even insist that you see it in VF, and in 3D too to make the winning combo. If the relief – at least in the version we saw during its screening for the press – seems to cause a slight darkening of the image, the absence of subtitles will guarantee that your gaze will not be diverted by the appearance of stray text on the screen, and you will, we hope, be in the best configuration to immerse yourself in this Abyss Realm. “Immersion”, yes, another journalistic cliché which corresponds to the film, and yet, we had not seen or felt that since theAvatar: The Way of Water by James Cameron over a year ago. The feeling that the film tells both a world, and the movement of exploration of this world. And the poor spectator finds himself thrown into another universe by the sound and the image: “traveling without moving”, as they say in Dune.

The Kingdom of the Abyss accomplishes this feat by taking the risk of the grotesque and the excess. We follow the adventure of a young girl who falls overboard during a storm during a sea cruise with her parents, and who will have to work in the service of a completely fanciful cook, in a restaurant-boat populated by weird animals. The resemblance with Spirited away is a false lead: if the film actually shares key elements with Miyazaki’s classic, The Kingdom of the Abyss travels very quickly towards visual madness, sometimes total chaos, through its other center of gravity: not the pseudo-Chihiro but the character of Nan He, crazy cook, improbable mixture between the Joker and Sanji of One Piece. Without spoiling too much, The Kingdom of the Abyss thus oscillates between these two characters brought together by a funny secret – because yes, there is something revealed in the film, but the intention of this revelation comes quite quickly in the narration, and any attentive spectator will know the Decrypt.

The visual madness of the film does not serve as a cover for a starving subject, or is not reduced to a fabulous sequence lost in the middle of a fantasy adventure already seen a thousand times. Which makes us regret all the more that Monkey King: Hero is Backthe previous and first film by Tian Xiaopeng once again adapting the legend of the Monkey King, is still unpublished in France despite a presentation in Annecy in 2015 but obviously does not spoil a second of the spectacle and the wind of madness offered by this Abyss Realm where as soon as the prologue is animated in a photorealistic way, the roller coaster starts in earnest and the race will barely slow down until its epilogue, which is truly overwhelming – more than essential advice by the way: stay well during all the credits, which will allow you not only to see an additional scene but also to be able to get back to reality a little. So, be warned, if the film manages to spot even the slightest little flaw in you, it will take the opportunity to penetrate there and turn everything upside down. No need to have a big crack, though: you just need to open your eyes.

By Tian Xiaopeng. Duration 1h52. Released February 21, 2024

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