Yobi, The Five Tailed Fox revolves around a kumiho, a nine-tailed fox that can assume different forms including human. Kumiho are familiar figures in Korean folk tales, and they are usually depicted as magical creatures that take female form to lure and prey on humans. This time, however, our protagonist is a young, kind-hearted fox with only five tails, instead of nine.
After losing her family to fox hunters, five-tailed Yobi lives in the forest with some shipwrecked aliens, far away from the humans. When one of her alien friends gets captured by a villager, Yobi has no choice but to adventure into the human world to rescue him. At the village, Yobi meets many humans, including Geum Yee who studies at a school for maladjusted children. Interested in Geum Yee, Yobi joins the students and revels in the fun of human life, but both a fox hunter and a mysterious shadow man are on her trail.
I have to admit that I have a soft spot for anime based on folktales, legends and mythology, with the only proviso being that such references or inspirations are used in an intelligent or innovative manner. While there are many successful anime that have used these platforms as a basis for their plots (Tears to Tiara, My Neighbour Totoro, Miyori no Mori, Mokke, Wagaya no Oinari-sama, etc), there are also some truly awful efforts that are nothing more than pandering to the audience (Kanokon being a prime example).
One of the more worthy efforts of recent years is, surprisingly, not Japanese at all. Yobi, The
Five Tailed Fox is a Korean animated movie made in 2007, and directed by Lee Seong-kang (who also directed the critically acclaimed Mari Iyagi), and while the film does have it's problems, the end result is pretty good, especially given the penchant for viewers to make comparisons with Ghibli movies.
The story follows the life of a five tailed fox (a slight variation on the kumiho, or nine tailed fox), called Yobi, who lives in the forest with her friends, a group of stranded aliens who crash landed on Earth 100 years before.Yobi has lived with her friends for all that time, having been abandoned in the mountain forest when she was a cub. She spends her days wandering, playing, and generally having fun, until a group of children come to the forest on a test of courage.
As far as plots go, Yobi begins in fairly well. The first portion of the movie follows a fairly placid progression through the story, with much of the emphasis on Yobi and the aliens, however the film takes a very sudden and unexpected turn to the dramatic. It's actually unfortunate, especially as Yobi had a lot of potential, that the plot for the latter two-thirds of the movie is nowhere near as good as the first portion, and this is because the movie loses it's focus in a big way.
To put it simply, there's just too much going on. For a good portion of the movie it seems as though the screenwriter(s) were simply putting every idea they had on paper instead of sticking to the point, and while the movie does make an effort to tie up the numerous loose ends, it ultimately fails to do so as there is simply not enough running time. For a story to be as busy as this one, then it must, by any logical standards, be at least a twelve episode series - not an 85 minute movie.
The simple fact is that while the movie has several very interesting paths of development, it would have been better served if the director had chosen one (at a push, two), of those routes for plot progression. It's unfortunate that the end result is confusing, and the repeated use of "conveniences" simply reinforces this.
In terms of art and animation, the movie is at times breathtaking. The artwork especially, is lush, vibrant, and extremely eye-catching in both it's detail and composition. There are many moments when the background scenery will cath the viewers eye far more than the foreground action. The characters are designed fairly well, and I particularly liked how Yobi's human form (child), still retains the look of a fox due to her age and inexperience, while her adult form just looks wierd. The human characters are all well realised, especially the children, and my gripe (and a minor one at that), is with the design for the aliens as they reminded me of Ewoks more than anything else.
The one design that did puzzle me though, was the spirit in the shape of a wash basin.
The animation is actually very good for the most part, however there are some occasions where the characters look or act oddly (and no, I don't mean during the wierd song about the Sphinx). The movie also makes some good use of CG, and while it's generally encapsulated well into the whole, the CG does sometimes stand out because the colours don't quite match the rest of the scene.
The music used for the movie is very good throughout, reflecting a good range of emotive nuances, and the various tracks used for mood enhancement work well in their respective scenes. The ED is a rather pleasantly melodic ballad that reinforces the bittersweet ending to the movie, and rounds the whole thing off rather nicely.
I have to admit that at first I was a little confused given that the speaking language in the movie is Korean (and with me being so used to hearing Japanese), however once I got over that little hurdle, I found the acting to be surprising good. Emotively, the Korean seiyuu are at least as talented as their Japanese counterparts, and the cast portray their roles extremely well, especially Son Ye-jin (Yobi), and Ryu Deok-hwan (Hwang Geum-ee), both of whom do a sterling job with what are effectively the two lead roles (although it does take the movie a while to make this clear).
This is actually a rather enjoyable, if at times confusing, movie to watch. Given that the story heavily involves spirits and a forest, I found the distinct lack of an environmental message to be rather refreshing. There are, however, those problems with the plot, in particular the busy nature of the story and the seemingly wilfull use of deus ex machina. There are also several loose ends that never get tied up, in particular why yobi was abandoned, why are there aliens in the story, what the hell is that wash basin spirit all about, etc, etc.
Even with the various problems it has though, Yobi is still a good movie, and while it ultimately can't shake off all of the issues it has, it does, at the very least, resolve some of them (which is more than I can say for certain other titles).
To be honest, I'm not sure who would actually enjoy the movie more as the whole thing is designed to appeal to children and adults alike. Fans of nature and spirit based anime like Mushishi, Miyori no Mori, Mokke, Mononoke Hime, My Neighbour Totoro, etc (why do most of them begin with M?), may find this to be a pleasing addition to their viewing lists. Fans of mythology and legend (like me), may also want to check this out as, while it deals with what is ultimately supposed to be a nine tailed fox, it is the Korean kumiho rather than the Japanese Kitsune.
At the end of the day, even with all of the spirits, nature, antics, drama, and other stuff, Yobi, The Five Tailed Fox is at heart a coming of age story, and not for the humans, but for Yobi herself. The movie makes the point of highlighting the fact that although Yobi is over 100 years old, she is still very much a child both physically and mentally, especially as kumiho can live for over a thousand years.
It may have it's flaws, and it may not appeal to everyone, but Yobi, even with it's problems, is a great example of what Korean animation is capable of, and bodes extremely well for the future of Asian animation.
This is a must see movie for anyone, great for kids or adults, I Highly Recommend that you watch this Animated film! Being that I like this film so much I would have to say that this has surpassed such films like Princess Mononoke in its story telling and visual appearance. Its sad though that practically no one knows about this great film. If you are at all into animated movies this is a must see movie!
This Korean film focuses on our titular heroine, Yobi, trying to retrieve one of the aliens she came to befriend from a group of humans and she takes on the form of a human child to try tracking down the alien. Through this task, Yobi comes to bond with the humans she encounters at the school she attends, particularly a boy named Hwang Geum-ee, and becomes conflicted over whether or not she should stay with them as the film progresses.
To say that the quality of Yobi, the Five-Tailed Fox is mixed would be a bit of an understatement. On the one hand, Yobi is fleshed
out enough as such where she is rather likeable as a character when she comes to learn more of the humans she stays with, understand them and bond with Geum-ee. Her bonding with him and the other humans is genuine and the movie devotes enough focus on this development to make it engaging and relatable to audiences.
On the other hand though, the movie gets into the bad habit of trying to cram in too many plot threads and attempts at symbolism into its 85-minute run. The introductions of the mysterious shadow and the fox hunter created unnecessary attempts at conflict within the movie with villainous characters that could have just as easily not been implemented into the film. Also, the movie's attempts at implanting symbolism involving American Indian and Eastern mythical and religious influences comes across as rather heavy-handed, usually don't lead anywhere and often get lost in the convoluted story developments that take place with Yobi's development and the mentioned villainous conflicts she gets into. Also, I have to feel a bit befuddled over why this movie has aliens in it when a good chunk of its storytelling and symbolism is influenced through Eastern folklore.
Overall, I would say my reception to this is a bit mixed. While I did enjoy the focus on Yobi's bonding with the humans at the school she sneaks into, the movie seemed to lose track of what type of story it wanted to tell with its addition of aliens, villainous characters and folklore symbolism that could have just as easily been left out of this film to focus on Yobi coming to understand humans. It's still worth a look if you want to see more Korean animated films, but it would be hard to get into multiple watches of it.
I have to say I totally enjoyed this film. I love films with a slightly sad ending and this one did just that :) Defiantly one I would recommend to anyone !! I would have liked to see a little more of the bond between characters so it was even more more heart aching at the end but other than that it was just perfect :) x