Deep Sea  (PG) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Tian Xiaopeng, China,  2023, 112 mins, in Mandarin with subtitles and some English

Cast:  Tingwen Wang, Su Xin

Review by Carol Allen

Acclaimed Chinese director Tian Xiaopeng . who specialises in computer generated animation, took seven years to create this, his second film, which he has based stylistically on Chinese Ink painting.   It’s a style of which I have no knowledge but the film is certainly visually both expressive and beautiful. 

He describes the story as a “dream journey” – something which becomes clear at the end of the film.  It begins with the heroine, a little girl called Shenxiu, who lives with her father and stepmother.  Shenxiu still desperately misses her real mother, whom she has lost touch with after her parents’ divorce and whom she searches for in her dreams, though she is very fond of her new baby brother. While on a cruise with the family, Shenxiu accidentally falls into the ocean and finds herself in a strange underwater restaurant called Deep Sea, where she meets a collection of peculiar marine creatures, including what look like a group of rather cute otters – but they can’t be in the deep ocean – and a kitten who wears a hat which covers its eyes.   In charge of it all is Nanhe, the chef and maitre de, initially a very good looking young man, but whose face and body at times stretches into a grotesque parody of himself.   Is he her friend or her enemy?  Through it all Shenxiu clings on to memories of her mother, whom she is trying to find in this strange water world.  This is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of. 

The film’s PG certificate indicates this is too scary fare for very young children and even older ones might be somewhat bewildered and indeed scared by the twists and turns of the fantasy.   In the version I saw some, though not all, of the dialogue had been dubbed into English, which was not a good move, as much of is shouted against other noise and is therefore difficult to hear.   Much better if you can to see it in the original Mandarin with full subtitles.

In many ways the film is ideal material to watch if you are slightly inebriated or stoned!   It is a dream film, visually gorgeously inventive and it’s best just to sit back and let it take you over.   And as I said, all does become clear at the end, including much of the initially baffling visual images.