Mangchi, the Hammerboy
Set in 2112 AD, on an Earth transformed by the cataclysmic Great Disaster's earthquakes and tidal waves, where remnants of land barely sustain scattered civilizations struggling to maintain industrial development, the film opens on isolated Candlestick Island. Here, amidst the remains of an immense skyscraper, a small, close-knit community provides a home for the eponymous protagonist, a pre-adolescent, rambunctious boy—Mangchi (Kim Seo-Young), who yearns to discover the world beyond his humdrum enclave.
Mangchi gets his nickname, the Hammerboy, from the familiar tool he carries everywhere, an implement he makes special by attaching a strong, lengthy string to the handle so that it can function like a South American bolo, as well as in the traditional pounding manner. The orphaned Mangchi enjoys the loving care of his wise and spry Grandfather (Kim Yong-Jun), also the guardian of a powerful, uncanny crystal which he had concealed within his charge's hammer. Grandfather did this to aid Mangchi in learning to use the family gift of the Great Echo, a type of concentrated internal "chi" energy that, with the proper training and with the amplification of the crystal, can be focused into a mighty force to be used to ward off and to defend against an attack in a dire emergency.
The plot really takes off when literally out of the blue, a light aircraft crashes on Candlestick Island, its remarkably unscathed pilot being the spunky, teen-aged Princess Poplar (Bae Jeong-Min) of the Jemius Empire. She flees to the friendly Akra Empire seeking succor from pursuit by military forces under the command of the treacherous General Moonk (Choi Seok-Pil) who plans to overthrow Jemius' legitimate ruling family and seize power, his ultimate goal being global domination. Mangchi sees his opportunity to aid Poplar in thwarting Moonk's nefarious schemes as a chance to do a good deed and to see the wider world, thus fulfilling his needs. Mangchi's own special mode of transportation, a cleverly conceived solar-powered flying tricycle, enables Poplar and the protagonist to evade their foe for the nonce and to fly toward the princess's home.
Pultaco, Poplar and Mangchi, by learning to overcome differences and unite in a worthy cause, mature and grow—especially the young lad, who truly acquires heroic stature. Their involvement in the clash of empires brings irrevocable change on them all and on their homelands and results in some unexpected consequences both tragic and enlightening. Mangchi's efforts to master his Great Echo skill under Grandfather's tutelage suggests a fond homage to countless martial arts training scenes in genre cinema; the final denouement duel, likewise.
Mangchi, the Hammerboy, an anime feature that bears strong resemblance to much of Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki's work, uses this influence to advantage in its dazzling, intricately rendered and designed visuals; its lovable and colorful characters (with comic relief Angdu, voiced by Han Su-rim, a little girl with an unrequited crush on neighbor Mangchi deserving special mention); its gripping story with uplifting content; and its sprightly, perfectly suited score.
This film, a thoroughly entertaining, futuristic, science-fantasy adventure, bodes well for further developments of and contributions by Korea to the world of animation. Whilst eagerly anticipating more Korean projects in this field, hopefully some with closer connections to that country's rich history and folklore, Mangchi, the Hammerboy—while dissimilar from its striking, surreal and enigmatic compatriot break-out feature, 2002's My Beautiful Girl, Mari—serves nicely to herald fascinating growth in the genre, hammering home, as it were, the arrival of a significant, culturally distinct presence ready to enrich us all.