The King Of Pigs


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The King Of Pigs
"This film efficiently uses animation to produce genuine moments of horror."

Unceasingly dark, The King Of Pigs is uncomfortable viewing. It's made more so by the age of its protagonists - we may meet them as adults, but in a succession of flashbacks we see that their childhood has shaped them in ways that swiftly become horrific.

Sang-ho Yeon's script manages a few surprises, and his direction of this animated feature shows some signs of confidence. The animation certainly helps with some of the horror elements, not least the ways in which the titular King manifests. It also allows much greater flexibility with the violence depicted. The school bullying that's shown is truly the stuff of nightmares - beyond the unremitting enforcement of social order, there are distinct sexual overtones - 'abuse' scarcely covers it, and one wonders if it could have been depicted in live-action.

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Kyung-Min has just killed his wife. It's never discussed, but it's the key to the stunning opening, the first note in this grand guignol. It prompts him to look up his old school mate, Jong-suk, and over dinner they reminisce. Key to their memories is a terror that their persecutors would look back on their shared school days, to "remember and laugh". There's very little laughing.

Kyung-Min is voiced as an adult by Oh Jung-se, his younger self, Hwang, by actress Park Hee-von. Similarly, Jong-suk's adult and child selves are voiced by actor Yang Ik-June and Kim Kkobbi Flowerain. It's an intriguing piece of casting, evident in retrsopect but only visible in supplementary materials. The version shown at Edinburgh's 2012 Film Festival didn't have translated credits, and there were a few artifacts of translation within the subtitles - There's a confusion between "win" and "beat". and it's not clear at times if 'debt' means, well, 'debt', or another obligation.

Obligation is an important part of it - the need to keep one's head down, to get along, and it's in that conformity to expectations that the real horror lies. As adults, Jong-Suk and Kyung-Min have families, wives, jobs - but they are both haunted by the events of middle school. Episodes unexplored, undiscussed. There are some striking moments of detail, of culture - an extended sequence that depends on Guess black jeans, another that looks at how karaoke can be used to curry favour. Then there's the violence. There's an extended metaphor at play, the 'pampered dogs' who inhabit the upper echelons of the school's social order, with the freedom to bite and remain beloved, and the pigs - raised for slaughter. Subverting that order comes Chul, voiced by Ms Kim Hye-Na. Chul does not play by the rules, bow his head, forget to bring a switch-blade. Chul is bad news, but he offers hope to young Hwang and Jung. As with many parables of salvation, however, there is no small measure of betrayal.

Made on a tiny budget (reported to be as little as $150,000) this film efficiently uses animation to produce genuine moments of horror. There are occasional surprises - character drawing isnt't consistent, on occasion details in eyes and faces are dropped in favour of motion and movement, and the violence illustrated is at times heart-stopping. It does, on occasion, tend to the overblown, but some of that can be attributed to the overwrought reactions of those involved. It's bleak, and on that level and others rightly comparable to Oldboy. Where it suffers most is in the denoument, a sudden rush to an ending that leaves much of the more careful build up to one side. Like Lovely Molly, it raises questions about the possible presence of something supernatural, but its animation style suggests that the head-swaps and distortions are interpretative, metaphorical. That's not to its detriment. The arrival of Chul as a spirit of vengeance is even more powerful as a human reaction to a human system. Yet more compelling are the reactions to chul, the "debt" that is created around and by him.

Reviewed on: 19 Jul 2012
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This animation portrays the brutal world of school bullying as the starting point for a lifelong perpetuation of the instinct for violent revenge.
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Director: Yeon Sang-ho

Writer: Yeon Sang-ho

Starring: Ik-joon Yang, Jeong-se Oh, Hye-na Kim, Kkobbi Kim, Hee-von Park

Year: 2011

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


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