The King of Pigs
Details: Korea, Republic of (South Korea),
Synopsis: Kyung-min, a businessman, and Jong-suk, a failed writer, are former schoolmates. During a reunion dinner they look back on their school days, when a particularly cruel group of students, "the dogs", exercised a reign of terror by hazing and bullying part of the other students, the "pigs". One day, Kim Chul, one of their mates, stood up to the 'dogs', becoming the only hope of ending their tyranny. Fifteen years on, he remains a hero. But behind this figure, the two men recall the murky story of their bond.
Animation for adults keeps it real.
This is strong, intense and relentless drama
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: Both sophisticated and brutal, The King of Pigs is an animated film that will confront, appal and also move audiences. For those familiar with South Korean cinema, some of the contents of Yuen Sang-ho’s film will not particularly surprise, though there is no question of diminished impact. In a daring move, this animation is included in the Sydney Film Festival’s competition (screening June 12 & 13), so there’s a fair chance that the culture vultures focussing on that prestigious cinematic race will be in for a hell of a shock.
It’s primarily a Korean schoolyard drama, which Asian film aficionados know that means that unlike most Western coming of age films, The King of Pigs is not going to be about first kisses or allowance increases. The schoolyard scenario is related in flashback when working class wannabe novelist Jong-suk and geeky failed entrepreneur Kyung-min, who haven’t seen each other since high school 15 years earlier, meet up over a Korean BBQ dinner.
As the duo compare high school recollections, the film opens a window on the hierarchical nature of Korean schools and more broadly Korean society – with a high degree of bullying (also evident in the military and corporate life). At the bottom of the social strata, Kyung-min and Jong-suk were both relegated to the group known as “the pigs”, while the bullies who fiercely enforce their superiority are known as “the dogs”. The story repeatedly comes back to the present day and the more Kyung-min and Jong-suk talk, the more evident it becomes that they are no longer in touch with the one ally that they had in their school days, the violent, loose cannon Chul aka ‘the King of the Pigs’ who saw red at the first sign of injustice. Through the reminiscences of these two men, the story of the third is revealed.
Now that makes it sound like an innocent enough dinner conversation, but as the opening sequence reveals that Kyung-min has slit his wife’s throat before his reunion with Jong-suk, it is clear that their violent past is not all behind them. One of the most riveting things about this film is that it begins at a high-pitched intensity and never lets go.
Culturally, Australians have finally caught up with Asia (and the French) and it is now generally accepted that animation doesn’t have to mean childish content. Still, even in film circles, there is confusion about the idea that if the film features children, then it must be for children. There’s only one cuddly animal on show here and that gets a brutal stabbing, so let the cutie-pie fantasy go, this is strong, intense and relentless drama.
The animation itself is basic with animated figures primarily moving across static cells. The most famous contemporary example, of the style is the TV show The King of the Hill. The simplicity, in fact, enhances the drama, indicating that Yuen is first and foremost a storyteller, with a tale that will engross all film fans, not just animation buffs.
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