Mangchi, the Hammerboy
Mangchi, the Hammerboy soars high on its own power
Amy Harlib · September 16, 2003 | Among the special treats at the 2003 Big Apple Anime Festival, a real standout was a screening of an anime feature from Korea—hopefully the beginning of a trickle foreshadowing a wave of original and distinct projects emerging from the very huge influence of Japan that will grace the theaters and the DVDs of the global community in the next few years. Like so many productions in this cinematic art form, Mangchi, the Hammerboy bases its contents on a popular comic (manhwa). It also benefits from the talents of director An Tae-Kun who, while definitely inspired by Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli pictures, still infuses the film with an ambiance of its own.

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.

Mangchi, the Hammerboy
Character Plan/KTB Network/CJ Entertainment, 2003
Directed by Tae-geun Ahn
80 minutes

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Before Poplar and finally Mangchi can confront Moonk in the climactic showdown, they experience many exciting adventures together and separated by the vicissitudes of fortune before the conclusion. The twists and turns of the story involve an encounter in the Neutral Zone between the empires with the cunning and greedy bandit chief Pultaco (Choi Han), who regrets betraying Poplar and Mangchi to Moonk's minions and later joins Mangchi's righteous cause, as well as the invasion of Candlestick Island by Moonk's military—an intrusion made possible by the villain's henchmen following Pultaco and his gang, who are interested in finding the Island's hidden gold treasure. These disruptions galvanize Grandfather to make concerted efforts to coach Mangchi in his use of the Great Echo. Further complications and interest derive from Moonk's coveting the crystal of power and how he discovers that it is in the possession of Grandfather and Mangchi.

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.
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