The King Of Pigs
South Korean animation THE KING OF PIGS, written and directed by Yeun Sang-Ho, concerns two childhood friends who meet up again after years apart. One of them, failed businessman Kyung-Min, has just strangled and killed his wife, and the other, failed writer Jong-Suk, has just shouted at and beaten the woman in his life. The two then discuss their time together at high school, and in particular their friend, Chul, as the narrative moves between the present and the past.
Chul, a quiet loner tired of the incessant bullying a clique of pupils (‘dogs’) inflict on those weaker than them (‘pigs’), one day stands up to them, thus becoming the titular ‘King of the Pigs’. This has consequences, the effects of which are felt up to the present day.
There’s a lot of violence in the film, and it never feels gratuitous or exciting.
The film has quite an interesting look, with some stylised camera work and clean lines that recall Production I.G. (KILL BILL Vol. 1; BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE), and detailed, expressive faces which are curiously reminiscent of Mike Judge’s “King of the Hill”. However, the art style is quite variable throughout. The film has perfectly pleasing hand-drawn animation in some parts, but then in others there’s a shift to 3D models and cel-shading, which is distracting, giving it a slightly stiff and ‘off’ appearance. That said, there are also some scenes which looked excellent, the animators getting to briefly cut loose and really do something visually arresting and unsettling.
There’s a lot of violence in the film, and it never feels gratuitous or exciting. It’s portrayed in a matter-of-fact way, which makes each blow feel brutal, both physically and emotionally. There’s a great sense of the cycle of violence benefiting no-one and being ultimately destructive.
Chul makes a point about how he doesn’t want the bullies to think back on high school and remember it as a good time, and how you’ve got to become a monster to beat other monsters. This is all well and good from a teenage perspective, where such dramatic sentiments are perhaps to be expected. However, the fact that the main characters grow up to be bitter man-children who have learned nothing from their past, other than how to hurt people, renders them unsympathetic, despite the humanising scenes from their high school life.
THE KING OF PIGS, while interesting in places (notably the portrayal of the banal cruelties and petty humiliations experienced during high school), becomes eventually quite wearing. It’s relentlessly bleak, with very little redemption for any of the characters, the only lesson seeming to be the slightly juvenile, “the world is awful”.
THE KING OF PIGS screens at Edinburgh International Film Festival on 23 and 24 June. Book tickets here.
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