A Bit­ter­sweet Bi­og­ra­phy

Comicker and film­maker Jung Henin’s au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal Ap­proved for Adop­tion tells his com­plex story with an­i­mated mem­o­ries. by Mercedes Mil­li­gan

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Comicker and film­maker Jung Henin’s au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal Ap­proved for Adop­tion tells his com­plex story with an­i­mated mem­o­ries. by Mercedes Mil­li­gan

Doc­u­men­taries—good ones, any­way— tend to fall on ei­ther side of a wide-arc­ing pen­du­lum swing. The first are the de­tached, clin­i­cal, ob­ser­va­tional sort, which give an au­di­ence a (hope­fully) un­bi­ased feed of in­for­ma­tion and in­vite them to form their own opin­ions. The sec­ond type are the deeply per­sonal films that come from cre­ative minds brave enough to lay their ex­pe­ri­ences on the ta­ble along with their hurts, re­ac­tions, ques­tions and epipha­nies.

Now, thanks to New York-based indie dis­trib­u­tor GKIDS, U.S. doc­u­men­tary buffs and an­i­ma­tion fans get a chance to catch one of the most pow­er­fully per­sonal films of the year: artist Jung Henin’s (who goes by Jung) Ap­proved for Adop­tion ( Couleur de Peau: Miel, “Color of Skin: Honey”). The French-Bel­gian co-pro­duc­tion blends live-ac­tion footage of Jung as he trav­els back to his na­tive Korea with an­i­mated flash­back se­quences of his strug­gles grow­ing up in a large adop­tive Euro­pean fam­ily. His story is just one of many to come from the del­uge of adop­tions set off at the end of the Korean War.

The film, which de­buted in French the­aters in June of 2012, was in­spired by Jung’s graphic novel about his young life and how his emerg­ing sense of iden­tity as he grew up caused ten­sion in his fam­ily and re­vealed their un­der­ly­ing bi­ases.

“[Doc­u­men­tary film­maker] Lau­rent Boileau, the co-di­rec­tor of Ap­proved for Adop­tion, wanted to make a doc­u­men­tary about my re­turn to Korea,” Jung ex­plains. “He read my comic books and was very touched by my story … My diver­sity and the am­biva­lence in my iden­tity in­flu­enced the form of the film, but I was also in­spired by all the movies I like. Such as Grave of the Fire­flies by Isao Taka­hata, Mi- yazaki films, Paris, Texas by Wim Wen­ders, Ale­jan­dro González Iñár­ritu films, etc.”

An An­i­mated Up­bring­ing

While Jung says the goal was not to stick ex­actly to the graphic style of his comics, the an­i­ma­tion used for flash­backs and dream se­quences were de­signed to re­flect his artis­tic ex­pres­sion. “Since the story is au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal, it was stick­ing to my artis­tic lan­guage. I had the feel­ing that the movie em­pha­sized the sub­jec­tive di­men­sion of his­tory. This is a true story, re­gard­ing a fam­ily that still ex­ists, and my par­ents are still alive. But, this is the ver­sion of the facts re­ported by me. With draw­ing and an­i­ma­tion, I as­sumed that sub­jec­tiv­ity. In my graphic novel, I re­peat­edly use the dream­like or sym­bol­ism. The an­i­ma­tion al­lowed me to ful­fill my vis­ual choices; a trans­po­si­tion in [live ac­tion] would prob­a­bly dis­tort.”

As a graphic artist, the di­rec­tor was hes­i­tant when France Tele­vi­sion in Nancy of­fered to make a pi­lot in CG, but the de­mands of pro­duc­tion and good re­sults of the tests made it clear that this was the best method. How-

ever, the dream se­quences are in 2D, adding another level of story seg­men­ta­tion through vis­ual cues.

Though the ma­jor­ity of the an­i­ma­tion was pro­duced in France, the pro­duc­tion uti­lized the in­creas­ingly com­mon strat­egy of con­nect­ing an­i­ma­tors work­ing from home all across Europe over the In­ter­net. Work­ing in Au­todesk’s 3D Stu­dio Max, the team used Skype to con­nect with a chief an­i­ma­tor based in the south of France, and a vir­tual stu­dio cre­ated from scratch. To share and man­age dig­i­tal 3D an­i­ma­tion as­sets, the pro­duc­tion turned to DAMAS, a cloud-based sys­tem. It took a team of 15 3D an­i­ma­tors, 12 ren­der­ing-com­posit­ing folks, about six 2D an­i­ma­tors, five de­sign­ers, four char­ac­ter de­sign­ers and four lay­out artists (not to men­tion the live-shoot crew in Korea and post pro­duc­tion team) about a year and a half to com­plete pro­duc­tion.

A New Chap­ter

Ap­proved for Adop­tion has fit­tingly won ap­proval both at home and at fes­ti­vals around the world. No­tably, the in­ven­tive hy­brid-doc­u­men­tary earned two cov­eted awards at An­necy (Au­di­ence Award, UNICEF Award), where it was also nom­i­nated for the Cristal. It also took home hon­ors at An­i­mafest Za­greb and An­ima Mundi in Brazil. The Academy of Mo­tion Pic­tures’ stricter an­i­mated fea­ture qual­i­fi­ca­tions in­flu­enced GKIDS to en­ter it in the Best Doc­u­men­tary race, though it did not make the short list.

Jung says he most ad­mires comic creators who cre­ate a dis­tinct universe—artists like Osamu Tezuka, Moe­bius, Kat­suhiro Otomo and Chester Brown, as well as indie creators. He adds that he is a huge Stu­dio Ghi­bli fan and en­joys the works of film­mak­ers Park Chan Wook and Bong Jong Ho, though Ale­jan­dro Gon­za­lez Iñár­ritu is his fa­vorite. How­ever, his film was pri­mar­ily in­flu­enced by the de­mands of his story, from his point of view, in his words and through his cre­ative ex­pres­sion.

Still, film­mak­ing was a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence for Jung. “With a comic book, you are the sole mas­ter of your work—a piece of pa­per and a pen­cil are all you need,” he notes. “A film is very heavy team­work. A di­rec­tor has to have a very clear vi­sion of what he wants to do, and im­pose his ideas, but also be able to put them in ques­tion. I think, de­spite some con­flicts, I was able to make the film that I wanted to make.”

Now that the learn­ing curve is be­hind him, Jung’s ad­vice to other as­pir­ing film­mak­ers is sim­ple. “The tech­nique that was learned dur­ing all those long years must serve a story. Tech­ni­cal demon­stra­tions should never be at the ex­pense of sto­ry­telling. The end must al­ways jus­tify the form.” GKIDS pre­sented lim­ited en­gage­ments of Ap­proved for Adop­tion in L.A. and New York last fall; wide re­lease plans are to be an­nounced.

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