Yak [The Giant King] (2012)

(aka, The Robot King)

Apparently, Americans are idiots.

Or at least that’s the impression one gets from our film industry.

Case in point: Yak, an animated version of the Indian classic, the Ramayana, filmed in Thailand.

There are in fact two separate English language versions of this film, the second of which was made for the American market.

And the big difference between the two?

The American version has been cleansed of most of the things that tied it to the Ramayana – particularly the original names of the characters, although there appear to have been plot changes as well.

So obviously American children are incapable of following a story with characters with strange names, based on unfamiliar works, and are, of course, completely incapable of ever changing that undeniable fact.

Uggh.  It just makes you feel a little sick.

Here, the filmmakers chose to do more of a re-imagining than an adaptation.  It is set in an all-robot world that is more than a little reminiscent of Blue Sky Studio’s Robots, with a similarly absurd sense of imagination to much of it (I particularly liked the robot crane in one sequence which had an extra hand that operated the set of controls one would expect to find on a real crane)

The movie starts with the epic battle between the unstoppable armies of the evil Tokussan (aka, Ravanna) and those of the Monkey king, Hanuman.  However, when Hanuman enters the battle, he quickly subdues the evil giant and launches the one weapon that can destroy him – Ram’s thunderbolt, launched from a waiting satellite.  But Tokussan tries to burrow his way to safety, dragging Hanuman down the hole after him.  Both are apparently killed.

They both wake up “a million days later” in the desert, with no memory and chained together by an unbreakable chain.  Their efforts to break the chain soon make them heroes, and, eventually, friends.  But then Hanuman recovers his memory…

The storyline is quite different from the original – as is its ultimate theme – and some of the parts of the legend, like Hanuman trying to stop the sun, have been switched from one protagonist to the other.

Ultimately, it is a moderately entertaining film, one that children may find more interesting than adults.  It gives us a beautiful and well-realized world, with a lot of nice details, even if the animation isn’t quite up to the Pixar standard.  In particular, their visualization of the legendary Ravanna’s ten heads and twenty arms – traditionally represented in a very stylized and symbolic way – is a radical departure from the original and yet at the same time is recognizable.  Certainly it is more plausible as a piece of animation than a guy with ten heads floating in the air in a straight line over his shoulders and an impossible blur of arms at his sides.

But is it Science Fiction?  Like Robots (or for that matter, Cars), it offers no explanation for the origins of this world of mechanical life – and perhaps even less as we did learn about the robots’ life cycle in the earlier film.  Some of the details, like the giant robot sun running along a track atop a series of vast towers are clearly more fantasy than SF.

Unless we had an explanation for where they came from.  Which we don’t.

Oh, well.  At least the kids won’t care.  And you never know, they might even ask a few questions about the Ramayana.

If you don’t watch the American version.

(original English version available here).





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