Written and directed by Tian Xiaopeng, Deep Sea is a Chinese 3D-animated fantasy adventure that follows a young girl Shenxiu (Wang Tingwen), who finds herself in an underwater world.
Shenxiu is plagued with strange dreams and is missing her seemingly estranged mother. Her now-divorced father favouring his new wife and son (Shenxiu’s baby half-brother) exacerbates her isolation and depression, so she is eager for any contact with her mother. On a family trip on a cruise ship, Shenxiu hears a song her mum used to sing to her as a child at sea, which causes her to follow the sound and into the water, where discovers the Deep Sea restaurant run by Nanhe (Su Xin).
From the outset, Shenxiu’s world is dark and full of gloom. Vivid yet horrifying dreams about being abandoned by her mother plague her mind and she has yet to come to terms with her mother no longer in her life. We see that her father doesn’t seem too preoccupied with her unhappiness, choosing to focus on the joy brought on from his new wife and son. So, it is quite understandable to see Shenxiu’s fixation on seeing her mother causes her to literally leap into the unknown – only to be plunged into a world of vibrancy, and the film takes an extremely strange turn.
Xiaopeng’s underwater world is full of eccentric characters who all go to the Deep Sea restaurant, a towering structure that prides itself on high-quality cuisine but is really struggling under poor reviews. When owner Nanhe discovered that Shenxiu holds the key to the restaurant’s success, he decides to help her mother in exchange for her working in the restaurant. Despite being in an unfamiliar world, not to mention a different species, Shenxiu finds a rare camaraderie among the restaurant staff and it is natural that chaos ensues. But this fantastical premise doesn’t provide much insight to Shenxiu’s fragility – audiences may see a girl missing her mother, but there is not enough resonance to shape out her character. This may indicate an emotional immaturity that isn’t fully addressed and while the narrative’s underlying message of optimism attempts to lift Shenxiu out of her sad state, there is insufficient clarity on her state of mind, especially when a parasite called the Red Phantom seems to target her and feed on her misery.
Nanhe’s opportunistic nature doesn’t help. A smoking rogue with supernatural abilities, he wants nothing more for the Deep Sea restaurant to become successful but the lack of it has made him ill-tempered and greedy. Shenxiu’s innocence occasionally dents his materialism yet he is overly dominated by his eccentrics and reluctance to being a leader. With the two characters effectively driving the narrative through their own passions, Deep Sea takes a while to explore its themes of loss and personal wellbeing and with a 112-minute runtime, there is a lot of interaction but not enough action to justify its overly fantastical premise.
However, the combination of 3D animation and traditional ink brush painting styles is visually stunning. The colours pop on the screen and the 3D immediately transports you into a different and vibrant world. The fast-paced action scenes cause the animation to slack in consistency due to the ambitiousness of the animation but once the screen displays the vast environment in all its glory, it is a sight to behold.
Deep Sea has some consistency issues in terms of tone and narrative, but it is beyond beautiful and makes the most of the 3D animation to convey its vast settings.
Director: Tian Xiaopeng
Stars: Wang Tingwen; Su Xin
Runtime: 112 minutes