Warning: This film may ruin your day.
The first feature length from South Korean director Sang-ho Yeon is… a bit heavy. I don’t just mean heavy as in the subject matter. Everything is somewhat depressing. The animation. The sound design. The atmosphere. Even the voices have been recorded at unrelenting ear-piercing level. This film feels like a slog to get through. But sometimes slogs can be good. Just because a film is unremittingly depressing doesn’t mean it isn’t good. I love Breaking the Waves but I never want to see it again.
A woman sits dead at a table. A man stands sobbing in a shower. He then sees an odd-monster creature and then the title pops up. Intriguing. Depressing. Good, good. We meet Jong-suk a ghost writer who’s not very good at ghost writing because he can’t find the truth in things is being chewed out by his boss. He goes home and takes his frustration out on his wife. Deeply troubling. He meets with naked, sobbing man Kyung-min who has now put on some clothes and corked his eyes. As it turns out the men went to school together. Oh my did they go to school together. They went to a school that is like a conglomerate of Sleepers, Miik’s Young Thugs and Scum – but with rich kids. The school they went to was run by the rich kids who were also inherently the smart ones. A cultural difference between Korea and the UK. Here it’s often the intelligent who are picked on because they did something was dickheadish as to pick up a book when they could be playing with their dong. Jong-suk and Kyung-min make for a sorry pair until a mysterious third child Chul stands up to the bullies. This leads to more physical, psychological and political (within a school system) torment. This all builds to a wonderfully delightful climax.
I found The King of Pigs are hard film to enjoy. By the end I found it hard to appreciate. It begins well enough, the animation feels a little too sparse at first – I did keep giggling everytime somebody walked – but it grew on me as it fitted in with the films bleak feel. The death we’re greeted with is terribly mysterious and hooks you in but then as the film descends into it’s fucked up Stand By Me flashback it becomes increasingly hard to follow. Films about bullying are always difficult watches. People who have been bullied may want the gratification of film fantasy violence to befall the villains, when they don’t get their commupence this can be annoying. It may also bring back a few sore memories.
Sang-ho Yuen has done a fine job in creating a film that fully portrays the harsh lives of people who suffer bullying at school, particularly the South Korean system and it’s probably my own issues with the film. But by the end it became unrelenting, the misery, one act of violence after another that if anything became tiring. A few moments of violence can be powerful shock agents and a host of them can be numbing. As the three young boys slowly loose what left of their dignity and sanity the film begins to move into near-hysterics where even the vocal recording of the actors become ear-split-tingly shrill. It doesn’t help that most of the school kids are clearly voiced by women.
The problem is that for all my moaning this isn’t actually a bad film. It’s actually quite good but in it’s desire to focus on the torment of it’s main characters Sang-ho Yuen’s film begins to torment the viewer to the point where you may want to turn it off through frustration, boredom or annoyance. Whichever way it won’t make you a happy person.
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