Review: The King of Pigs / Cert: 15 / Director: Yeun Sang-ho / Screenplay: Yeun Sang-ho / Starring: Yak Ik-june, Kim Khobbi / Release Date: Out Now
It's a not exactly a new theme, the misery of schooldays, but here's a film that makes it seem as sickeningly forceful and immediate as a punch to the breadbasket on a freezing cold playground. This Manwha (Korean anime) sees two troubled adults, bespectacled bankrupt Hwang Kyung-min and failed writer Jung Jong-suk, getting together after fifteen years to mull over painful memories of their first grade. And we're not just talking about some stolen lunch money.
If you thought the comp you went to was bad, think again. This place has to be the worst fictional school since Dotheboys Hall in Nicholas Nickleby. Largely devoid, it would seem, of teachers, it's run (somewhat in the manner of a traditional English boarding school) by a hierarchy of top students from rich families (dogs) who lord it over everyone else (the pigs of the title). The slightest thing can incur humiliating repercussions – Jong-suk goes in one day inadvertently wearing a pair of jeans meant for girls, and he's publicly branded as a 'fag' and all but sexually assaulted by the class supremo.
There's one person who resists this oppressive regime – long-haired rebel Kim Chul, whose mean right hook sends the bullies sprawling. He's an inspirational and charismatic figure, with a disturbing message: “We need to be monsters if we don't want to keep living like losers.” Even he, though, can't do anything about supine teachers who turn a blind eye to what's going on or the brutal inequalities of society at large. As the tension between dogs and pigs heightens, he becomes a warped Christ figure prepared to sacrifice himself for his beliefs, the two boys his wary and unworthy disciples.
Writer/director Yeun Sang-ho's feature debut is like a hard-hitting cross between If, Kes, Old Boy and Crow's Zero, with imagery and themes transplanted from Lord of the Flies into a setting of urban blight. The animation makes a virtue of ugliness, the character design all mean eyes and piranha mouths, the colour palette tending to faecal reddish-browns and muddy yellows. It paints a horribly dark picture of a society where there's a sharp line between winners and losers and physical abuse is everywhere. Kyung-min and Jong-suk are all too convincing as they vacillate between futile rage and despairing cowardice, and Kim Chul is a mesmerising anti-hero, a kind of mini-Bruce Lee in looks and the one beautiful thing in the whole story.
This is filmmaking that seethes with anger and a wholesale rejection of everything it lays its eyes on. About as pleasant as a dead leg, yes, but exhilarating in its passionate negativity.
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10