An unsettling animation out of South Korea, The King of Pigs is an incredibly dark film that hints at brilliance without ever quite reaching it.
As the film opens, Kyung-Min (Oh Jung-se) has just killed his wife. At his wit’s end, he calls an old school friend, Jong-Suk (Yang Ik-june), to whom he hasn’t spoken in years. The two of them meet and recall their early high school days. Unfortunately, their teenage years weren’t the happiest of times. Relentlessly bullied by a handful of boys, the two of them tried their best to stay inconspicuous and make themselves small targets, to no avail. It’s only when Kim Chul (Kim Hye-na), the new kid, comes on the scene that it seems Kyung-Min and Jong-Suk will finally be free of their tormentors.
I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that their hope is short-lived. The darkness in The King of Pigs never lightens up, and the tale seems at pains to prove that revenge leads to anything but emancipation. The closest comparisons would be William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ (though we don’t have the desert island setting providing an excuse for the students’ behaviour) or even the flashback sequences from Old Boy (Oldeuboi).
The animation itself is powerful without being particularly pretty. Being a low budget animation, I didn’t expect the imagery to knock my socks off, however I was a little disappointed at the character designs. They’re ugly and almost reminiscent of ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’. As with a lot of 2D animation these days, there are some brief 3D animated sequences which work well. Been Eom’s score is impressive although present only in brief moments. The lack of incidental cues is by no means a bad thing, however, and instead makes the musical moments more powerful. From a production standpoint, the only real complaint is that the audio occasionally distorts when characters are talking particularly loudly. I can’t remember the last time I noticed that in a professional feature.
The DVD presentation is crisp and clear, and the lack of a Blu-ray version didn’t really bother me. The extras are so fleeting as to be a case of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them, however the 7 minutes or so that are present are of particular interest. Considering how long I’ve spent wading through special edition DVDs and Blu-ray features that have been less than special, this brief yet interesting insight suits me quite well.
The King of Pigs is a brutal tale that is not for the faint-hearted. Whilst the pacing never feels sluggish, there is one subplot that could have easily been excised. The dénouement feels like a bit of a narrative fumble but for the most part this is compelling viewing.
The King of Pigs is available now on DVD from Madman.Rating: