Continuing on the subject of pigs and South Korean cinema, this week I present you The King of Pigs. A dark violent animation about the sometimes cruel reality that can be found in the South Korean culture.
The King of Pigs won several awards at the Busan International Film Festival in 2011 and in 2012 it was screened at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight section. This drama feature directed by Yeon Sang-ho, also known for his Train to Busan (2016), is based on real events that he encountered when he was young.
The film starts with the death of Kyung-min’s (Oh Jung-se) wife, a thirty-something CEO of a failing business. In despair, he contacts his middle-school friend Jong-suk (Yang Ik-june), who is a struggling writer with an accumulated anger. Both haven’t seen each other in 15 years. Kyung-min and Jong-suk remember their childhood time when they were with their other friend Kim Chul (Kim Hye-na), and recall what happened to him.
Their friendship shows the different social classes in society, as Kyung-min comes from a somewhat wealthy family, Jong-suk can be situated in the middle class, and Kim Chul in the low class. The schools and even the classes are divided into several hierarchical levels in which power relations seem to be unchangeable. Jong-suk and Kyung-min, who are at the bottom of this school hierarchy, suffer constant bullying. However, Kim Chul, who is also at the bottom of the bottom, helps them to defend themselves. Together they protect each other but things are getting worse for the boys. Kim Chul has a master plan that will make their classmate’s school time as bitter as theirs. However, things don’t turn out as expected.
The narrative of the film is the weapon that will leave you angry, sad, and feeling powerless. The great division that takes place in that high school reflects the existent one in society, which increases the feeling of hopelessness, as trying to change that can be almost impossible or takes a very long time. Jong-suk knows first-hand how problematic it becomes when one tries to change the system. In The King of Pigs, Jong-suk is the voice that guides us through what happened, however, by the end we discover other perspectives on the story of the boys. The film shows violence and cruelty as we see the physical aggression that the protagonists face. For them this is not the actual problem, but the issue at stake is what this aggression does with their mental state, their world-view and future hopes.
The King of Pigs is an excellent 97 minutes feature film that succeeds in making us feel uncomfortable and hopeless. It is this represented hopelessness that empowers the film’s social commentary.
Original Title: 돼지의 왕 (Dwaeji-ui wang)
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Runtime: 1h 37m
Initial release: 3 November 2011 (South Korea)
Image: Screenshot The King of Pigs – Kim Chul.