The King of Pigs Review
Amidst a wash of brutality and horrific imagery comes a film by Sang-ho Yeun that captivates with its Lord of the Flies-inspired vibe and damning social commentary. By the time we’ve digested all that it has to offer, there lies a seriously poignant tale that questions codes of morality, using violence as a device in which to criticise the educational class systems of South Korea. When you realise that Yeun was able to create such a piece in under $150,000 then you have to admire his tenacity in pushing such heavy material into the public consciousness without faltering from his original mind-set, and aspiring to relay the horrors of the corruption of human interaction from the playground to adulthood.
Establishing The King of Pigs’ tone, we are immediately immersed in a scene borne of nightmares, where a businessman, Kyung-min Hwang, is weeping in the shower, a gargled expression exuding from the face of his dead wife in the next room. Cut to next scene and we’re exposed to the fickle world of writing, where our second main character, Jong-suk Jung, is being berated by a publishing agency director for the lack of humanity and emotional expression that his book contains. When these two characters meet up for a seemingly harmless reminiscing session on old times we are plunged into a prolonged and constant retrospective on what their lives were like when in school. It’s at this point Yeun changes angle and carves up a delicious offering of the tribulations for the two children, the bullying and merciless teasing they receive and their helplessness to do anything to prevent ‘the dogs’ from picking on them, ‘the pigs’. However, a new child has recently moved to their school and it’s their encounters with this somewhat disturbed man-child, Chul-yi, that dictate the direction of the film as a whole.
Visually, The King of Pigs is a treat. It doesn’t necessarily have the dazzling graphics of a multi-million dollar production, yet they feel designed specifically to suit the stylised violent disorder of the film. The colours are dark, beige, gloopy mixes for large chunks at a time leading to an almost unbearable depressing atmosphere that pertains to the film’s horrific events. Working in tandem with the visual quality is the way in which Yeun captures the very severity of Chul-yi and the others; there is one such moment where the director holds back just a fraction longer than expected to grasp the anger on his face, before he rips his belt off and swipes it at the face of one of the bullies. It works so well because it switches so suddenly, thus underlying the potentially deluded emotional condition of this young man.
Underneath the onslaught and barrage of fierceness is this concept of skewed educational and societal values that effervesces constantly and fervently. Yeun is declaring quite loudly that the very class system his country is built on does not provide happy memories for a considerable amount of the now adult population. The poorer students are labelled the pigs in this film, because they snuffle and accept anything in order to survive, whereas the rich are more akin to dogs because they’re self-assured; their confidence emanates from money that their parents throw at the school. This idea is one that clearly resonates badly with the director. The education system should never be so biased and catered towards one side of the tracks, when it was designed with the intention of giving everyone the opportunity not just to learn academically, but to evolve socially; looking back upon your school years should be a thing of cheerful nostalgia, as opposed to miserable oppression.
The King of Pigs will released by Terracotta Distribution on May 13th as a dual-layered DVD, encoded for Region 2 and presented in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio (anamorphically enhanced).
The colour scheme is quite dull; however, when you consider that the majority is filmed in dark, moody tones then it doesn’t particularly make for a difficult experience. In fact, the brooding quality of the colour only goes to accentuate the depressing perspective of the piece. Yeun obviously felt that The King of Pigs needed a certain aesthetic style, one that he created by purposely using slightly denser shades and thus is a reflection of his intentions rather than an issue of transfer to the disc.
The audio is presented in standard Dolby Digital 5.1 (A/52). Generally speaking, it’s of a good quality with the emphatic musical sections sounding particularly impressive. Dialogue is easy to hear, even if it isn’t helped by its unfortunate combination with the slightly off subtitles. It’s also very consistent, with few jumps or skips in the actual feature. Those subtitles (which are optional) are distinctly average and most likely sourced from a third party as opposed to being newly created for this release. Blighted by grammatical errors and the occasional issue, they can be a bit of an issue. Not so much that the film is incomprehensible, though; as it’s an action motivated film as much as a word-heavy one, it doesn’t deter or put off the viewer, but is certainly something that you’ll notice.
In terms of extras, the disc is actually quite stocked up with various bits and pieces. Perhaps most interesting is the interview with director, Sang-ho Yeun and principle cast members, Jung-se Oh, Hye-na Kim, Kkot-bi Kim and Hee-bon Park. The questions put forward to the crew are fairly simple in scope, but we do get some unusual information, such as Sang-ho Yeun telling us that the film was inspired by Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River in terms of structure. Aside from that, the interview is all rather standard with standard questions leading to standard answers, which makes its 15-minute length rather long. Furthermore, there are a couple of cuts and jumps during the interview, which could have easily been ironed out.
We also get a short extract from a dubbing session, although this is rather uninspiring and honestly a touch dull. The sketch section is fundamentally intriguing, because the graphic design behind an animated film always provides a little insight for those viewers inclined towards the production angle. It offers up some hand-drawn images of various characters and set-pieces. Outside of the aforementioned, we get some text-based biographies on the individual actors in the film, as well as some information about Terracotta Distribution, the Terracotta Film Festival and various trailers for some of their other titles, ranging from the bizarre Tokyo Fish Attack to the highly rated Breathless, which coincidentally is directed by Ik-june Yang, who plays the adult version of Jong-suk Jong.