Xuan Liang and Chun Zhang’s Big Fish & Begonia is a lushly animated Chinese film that could easily be mistaken for anime, which says less about its style and more about the universality of legends. Chun (Guanlin Ji) is a member of a race of human-shaped spirits in another dimension who control the Earth’s tides and seasons. When Chun turns 16, she’s allowed to turn into a dolphin and visit the human world — a supernatural Rumspringa, if you will — but when she gets her cetacean self-caught in a fishing net, a human boy named Kun (Timmy Xu) dies trying to save her.
Chun brings him back to the spirit world, where she makes a complicated deal with the Keeper of Souls to restore Kun’s life at no small cost to her own. Being a tale of a magical female sea creature who directly intervenes in a human man’s life, Big Fish & Begonia has a passing thematic resemblance to last year’s The Red Turtle, but without that film’s troubling gender politics. The picture is also further evidence that no matter how beautifully rendered it is or how complex the emotional context, and Big Fish & Begonia is both beautiful and complex, any shot of a sea creature leaping over a human will invoke Free Willy.
Opens Friday at the Embarcadero Center Cinema.