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Overall Rating
4

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Worth A Look100%
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Fake, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A nasty enough take on the story to feel real."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I feel a bit like I've seen the basic story of "The Fake" many a time, though usually set in rural America rather than South Korea, but Yeon Sang-ho's take is unusually and impressively biting. It stands out among stories of religious charlatans for more than just being animated.

The revival house in this case is set up in a small Korean village about to be wiped out by a new dam, meaning that the poor, simple folks there are relatively flush with compensation money, easy prey for slick con artist "elder" Choi Gyeongseok (voice of Kwon Hae-hyo) and pastor Sung Chul-woo (voice of Oh Jeong-se). One villager directing her money elsewhere is Kim Young-sun (voice of Park Hee-von), just accepted into a good college in Seoul - at least, until her good-for-nothing drunkard of a father Min-chul (voice of Yang Ik-joon) shows up and blows it gambling. He also gets into a scuffle at a bar where Choi is hiring actors for a "miracle", and when carted off to jail, spots Choi's picture on a wanted poster.

Antiheroes don't get much more anti than Min-chul, a thoroughly despicable man that his family would be much better off without. He's hateful and violent, with the worst reserved do our his wife and daughter, but even his friends are frequent targets of his bile. Yeon's design for the character has his face lined like it aged prematurely and scrunched up in permanent rage, while Yang's vocal performance is every agitated drunk you've ever encountered on the subway turned up a notch. The audience will likely wish that anybody else had discovered Choi, and that makes the clash between them one ugly thing.

It allows Yeon to strip any hint of idealism from his story, which lets him tell a tale that is still capable of critiquing religion as an idea without necessary positioning atheism or non-Christian religions as the specific correct choice. Nobody is given particularly strong moral ground to stand on, and any claim to it disintegrates right before the audience's eyes in often shocking fashion. It's a fight where everything is eventually brought down to Min-chul's level, and while there may perhaps be lessons about spirituality and skepticism to be learned, it's in the fallout rather than the cruel, bloody fight itself.

Some will find the animation as ugly as the story; as with his previous film, The King of Pigs, Yeon uses a style that sticks rigidly to real proportions and doesn't round anything off. The characters are flat in appearance, given texture by thick black lines that make them seem even more severe and worn than their situations would suggest. Sometimes it can be jarring enough to take the audience out of the movie a bit, as when characters dance or the camera moves from eye level, but the gritty desperation of the look is a match for the story.

It's an impressive tale that presents ugliness all around, and has a finale whose meaning will have the audience talking on the way out. I've trained myself to be a bit demanding of movies like this to hopefully overcome my own biases, so I may be underrating it a bit in just finding it strong stuff with pieces that should both frustrate and fascinate many different viewers.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=25644&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/02/14 04:04:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2013 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 AFI Film Festival For more in the 2013 AFI Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Sang-ho Yeon

Written by
  Sang-ho Yeon

Cast
  Jung-se Oh
  Ik-June Yang
  Hae-Hyo Kwan
  Hee-von Park



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