South Korea’s ‘The King of Pigs’, written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon, is the kind of movie that, if you allow it to, will stick with you long after the credits have finally rolled. A deep sadness, coupled with a constant sense of rising tension, guide us through the movies, sometimes ill paced, 97 minutes as we hurtle towards its inevitable revelations.
The story follows its main characters, Jong-suk and Kyung-min, as they discuss their murky history and misadventures, experienced during their formative high school years. It’s been 15 years since they have last spoken, and certain events in their adult lives have now led them to an impromptu reunion, one that isn’t quite as innocuous or as innocent as it first appears.
‘The King of Pigs’ holds up a harsh mirror to the class structure that exits within every culture. You have those who on top; the popular kids, the jocks, etc and, on the other end, you have those at the bottom; the losers, the geeks. In this spin on it however, those at the top are considered ‘The Dogs’, those at the bottom; The Pigs.
Being the target of ‘The Dogs’ is an every day occurrence for young Jong-suk and Kyung-min, until another student, renegade and rebel Kim Chul, stands up to the overbearing, and often cruel and malicious, attitude of those students who comprise ‘The Dogs’ and, in turn, earns the titular moniker: the King of Pigs. How does he go about this? Why, with extreme violence of course.
One of the first things that becomes clear is that this is a movie that refuses to pull its punches. Rather than cut away, it chooses to show you the harsh reality of its characters lives. When someone gets beat up, which happens quite a lot, you’re in close on the action witnessing the violence on a very real level. Without hyperbole: there is a a lot of violence in the movie. Like, really. A lot. And it’s pretty much all kid on kid, too. If that’s something that might effect you in any way, I recommend putting your kid gloves back on and going back to watching something a little more life affirming. If, however, you want a movie that is brutally honest, yet also somewhat of a challenge (thematically, stylistically) then you’re in the right place as this movie deals with a lot of grown up issues, too many that its protagonists, as children, have to deal with.
Issues of morality, depression, loneliness, anger, bullying, violence, sex, work, friendship, and growing up are all addressed in some form or another along the way. The way that it deals with these themes, bullying in particular, is handled in an emotionally impactful way with the only thing really letting it down being its inconsistent art style.
Implementing this half way choice of 2D/3D, ‘The King of Pigs’ has real issues with how it plays aesthetically. Pretty much everything that consists of a close up, or mid shot looks pretty good; a lot of detail, good movement, etc. As soon as we cut back to anything like an establishing shot, a long shot or anything depicting distance and the whole style falls apart.
Suddenly the figures look blocky and awkward, kind of like one of those Taiwanese court videos that were so popular a little ways back, but not as awesome. Like this one, mostly because it's Spider-Man:
The movements of the characters become stilted, looking almost like a high end iOS game.
I also found the character designs to be inconsistent at best, especially on Jong-suk, who’s child character model frankly looks pretty much like a meth addict. I couldn’t really figure out why they would appropriately depict Kyung-min as a child (fuller face, rounded and undefined jaw, etc, etc) but essentially transpose Jong-suk’s adult face onto his child body, with a slightly goofier hair cut, creating some sort of hideous man/child hybrid.
Inconsistencies in animation and odd character designs aside, ‘The King of Pigs’ was a slow burner for me. When it ended, I wasn’t entirely sure I liked it. I found the pacing to be a little off, the story pretty predictable and the ‘twist’ to be quite lackluster.
Despite this, I still found myself thinking about it a few days later and this is where I feel its strength lies. The themes the film chooses to tackle are difficult topics that the majority of people would have experienced at one point or another, but it’s the the way in that they are analyzed; using violence as a catalyst for exploration, that really helps make this movie stick with you. If you let it to.
In a nut shell: ‘The King of Pigs’ is a hard hitting analysis of class room politics, with a brutal edge focused on bullying as well as the long term effects that can linger as a result stretching long into adulthood.
'The King of Pigs' is out now on DVD courtesy of Terracotta Distribution
Until next time anime girls and manga guys, or vice versa. This is The Other Guy.