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King of Pigs, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Angry animation."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Animation fans will spend a great deal of time telling the rest of the world that the medium is good for more than children's entertainment, and will point to movies with either violent content or mature themes to make their case. It's unusual to see both handled well in the same movie, though, which makes "The King of Pigs" a searing rarity.

The film opens on a woman's corpse and her killer Hwang Kyung-min (voice of Oh Jung-se) trying to locate a childhood friend, Jung Jong-suk (voice of Yang Ik-june). Jong-suk has problems of his own - he's failing as a ghostwriter and tending toward abuse in his own relationship - but meets with Kyung-min to reminisce over their middle-school days. Not that they were good times - young Jong-suk (voice of Kim Kkobbi) and Kyung-min (voice of Park Hee-bon) were incessantly bullied, and when another student, Kim Chul-yi (voice of Kim Hye-na) stood up to their attackers, things only got more volatile.

The precise manifestations of class and economic status in late-1990s Korea may not be completely familiar, but it's clear that this classroom serves as a microcosm of a broken system - an elite is able to abuse the poorer classmates with almost complete impunity, with the victims feeling they have no recourse but violence, especially since the authority figures like teachers only seem to respond when the privileged are attacked. The abused seem quite aware of how this works - Chul describes them as pigs, only considered useful as they are killed - but with their thoughts on survival, that's as much high-minded as they get in their philosophy. Survival comes before changing the system.

As a result, the kids become mostly feral, and that's where the decision to make this an animated movie shines. Truth be told, the animation quality is not great - on the big screen, its CGI-imitating-cels style looks pretty bad, with limited movement and frequent jagged edges on lines meant to be straight - but when the kids are pushed to the wall and fight back, their faces transform into something monstrous and barely human, an ugly, frightening reminder of how powerful rage can be. In some cases, it seems into the character design on a basic level; Chul and his mother live closer to the edge than the other characters, and his "neutral" state is much closer to his rage face than the others.

Writer/director Yeun Sang-ho uses his medium well even when he doesn't have the most expensive tools - the limited-at-times animation means that quick motion is especially shocking, and the monsters that torment the characters from their subconscious are well and horrifically realized. The most important element any movie can have, though, is a good story, and Yeun constructs a tight, pitch-black tale where it's clear nobody will come out clean, and the audience may find themselves feeling sympathy for monsters - or at least, people who do monstrous things.

"The King of Pigs" isn't a fun movie, but an angry one - one of the angriest animated features I can recall seeing. It's a genre that oen doesn't see animated very often, but this example is good enough to be seen on its merits rather than as a curiosity.

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originally posted: 07/28/12 02:10:46
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2012 Festival de Cannes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2012 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2012 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 35th Starz Denver Film Festival For more in the 35th Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Sang-ho Yeon

Written by
  Sang-ho Yeon

  Ik-June Yang
  Kkobi Kim
  Jung-se Oh
  Hye-na Kim
  Hee-von Park

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