A salad bowl of mixed references and forms, Jung Henin and Laurent Boileau’s Approved for Adoption marks the latest example of the animated documentary, a form whose most interesting example remains Richard Linklater’s Waking Life but which likely received its greatest exposure with Waltz with Bashir.
There seems to be something about such hybridization that results in films drained of animated’s sentimental side, and this is the case in the Henin-Boileau project. But the marriage of doc and animation is only the start of the film’s hybrid nature: Boileau is from French-speaking Belgium, while Henin is Korean-born and Belgian by nationality, and the author of the graphic novel, Skin Colour: Honey, on which this movie is based. Moreover, the film alternates from time to time between live action and animation: Henin’s first-person narration (voiced by William Coryn) accompanies images of his first visit to his home country in four decades, while the majority of the tale is comprised of lengthy animated flashbacks telling of Henin’s orphan status in Korea and adoption by a Belgian family in 1971.
Known as Jung during his childhood period, the boy emerges as a contradictory character, able (as kids are) to immediately adapt to new places and cultures, but then developing a resistance to everything around him as he enters his teen years. The growing alienation isn’t born of homesickness; in fact, Jung is so cut off from his Korean heritage that he tends to distrust anything and anyone from his own roots, and instead develops an obsession for everything Japanese—as anti-Korean as he can get while asserting his essential Asian nature.
Approved for Adoption navigates these difficult cultural and ethnic matters within the context of the adopted orphan child’s unique worldview, which allows the observation of adult lives with a dose of skepticism and self-defensiveness. In Jung’s case, his outlet from this emotional jungle is drawing. The hand-drawn animation here emphasizes the directness of the hand forming the image on paper, and the film becomes the ultimate expression of what started as the mere scribblings of little boy trying to find his place in the world.