There’s a good chance Uncle Walt won’t be getting in line to adapt this ultra-violent Korean animation, available for the first time in the UK courtesy of Terracotta Distribution. The King of Pigs premiered at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival and has played at various international festivals since then, including the Director’s Fortnight 2012, making it the first animated Korean film to screen at the Festival de Cannes.
It’s a darkly disturbing thriller, brutal and brilliant, complex and compelling. There is a talking cat that pops up from time to time, but I wouldn’t want to give Eddie Murphy the wrong idea about this one. Directed by Yeun Sang-ho, with the voice talent of Yang Ik-june and Kim Kkobbi (Breathless), The King of Pigs is a harrowing experience from start to finish, a startling vision that refuses to shy away from the harsh truths of teen violence. A song and dance routine would’ve most likely ruined the mood.
After murdering his wife, a businessman on the verge of bankruptcy, Hwang Kyung-min, finds an old classmate, Jung Jong-suk, an old acquaintance he hasn’t seen in fifteen years. During a reunion dinner they look back on their school days, hiding away from their present day misgivings. Back then there were class distinctions among the pupils. You had the rich and successful students (The Dogs) who ruled the school with intimidation and violence, and the weaker, poorer children (The Pigs) who’s lives they made a misery.
Jong-suk and Kyung-min were powerless against The Dogs, until the day fellow student Kim Chul stood up, fought back and gave them hope of ending the circle of fear. Sit down Elton, I said ‘circle of fear’. Jesus. He’ll do anything for a fast buck. Fifteen years later, Chul remains a hero. But hugs, puppies, sassy sing-a-longs and fairytale endings don’t exist in this world. The two men recall the murky story of their bond, returning to the school and the shocking events that transpired there. In The King of Pigs, a happy ever after is about as likely as a Robin Williams comeback movie.
Blessed with a haunting opening that shocks to the core, The King of Pigs rarely takes its finger off the trigger. Yeun Sang-ho drowns his breakout feature in striking visuals that linger long in the memory. The animation is awkward and crude at times but it matches the potent storytelling, a gruelling study of youth, Korean society, violence and rage. It’s beautifully told too, an exceptional cinematic experience in every sense of the word, rich in characterisation and drowning in visual intensity. The films conclusion – a punishing 93 minutes later – is wonderfully played. Shocking, surprising and fiendishly decadent.
If you thought sitting through two hours of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn was punishment enough, you haven’t seen anything yet. The King of Pigs is a disturbing study of society that never lets up. Visually compelling, bold, brutal and brilliant, Yeun Sang-ho has delivered one of the most striking movies of the year – think Perfect Blue with less dance numbers. Uncle Walt will be spinning in his grave. Stunning. AW