As cartoons go, ‘Dwae-ji-ui wang (The King of Pigs)’ (2013) is brutal.

20 Feb

King-of-Pigs-2011-Movie-PosterKorean animation, hell Korean cinema in general is a genre of film which is almost entirely alien to me. Dwae-ji-ui wang (The King of Pigs) is my first foray into the fascinating wilderness known as Manhwa (essentially K-anime), and will probably be my only one for a long time – it’s not exactly a major industry here in Ireland. But the question is; does this movie make me want to see more of the same!?

Dwae-ji-ui wang is a cartoon, written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon, which follows the middle-aged Jung Jong-suk and Hwang Kyung-min as they recall the rather miserable childhood they had. A mixture of reminiscence and present-day drama, in recounting their not-so wonderful school days tears are shed, voices are raised and, penultimately, suspicions are confirmed.

This is easily the grittiest, unhappiest and darkest cartoons I’ve seen in a very long time, possibly ever. The tone is more bitter than the blackest of coffees, and the movie is so flowing with dread that it virtually permeates through the screen and elopes you in this inescapable, palpable misery. Most ‘dark’ films tend to have at least one positive element; nobody even smiles in this film, save the bullies who kick the stuffing out of the younger kids. Incredibly offensive language, extreme yet (mostly) realistic violence and taboos such as bullying, prostitution and masturbation combine to make this a gloriously upsetting film.

The above may sound like a criticism to some, but don’t get me wrong; I had a blast as this movie! I was hooked right from the start, and though I felt a sense of nauseating discomfort I praise the film for making me feel this way. Any movie which elicits that level of an emotional response from its viewer, regardless of genre, deserves a standing ovation, which this film actually received at its conclusion.

From a technical standpoint, Dwae-ji-ui wang also shines. Manhwa is similar to anime insofar as it tends to be more colourful than typical Western cartooning (even in this grimy mood), though it is less overt and exaggerated – no ridiculous clothes or impossible hairdos are to be found here, and peoples’ eyes do not resemble two colliding moons. The music is minimal, though it pops up at times of dramatic exposition, which it compounds marvellously.

The only complaints I have with this movie are so minor they barely warrant mentioning. As is always the danger with any foreign-language film, there is the inevitable typo in the subtitles, and it just so happens to be a particularly hated spelling error of mine; ‘principle’ appears when it should have read ‘principal’. Grr! Also, the camera has this odd habit of randomly zooming out and swooping about the place in this pseudo-3D effect. It takes you completely out of the film because it is uncharacteristic of the rest of the shots, and adds nothing to the story, tone or atmosphere at all. Finally, the ending gets progressively predictable, though it still packs an emotional punch.

These minor quibbles aside, Dwae-ji-ui wang is not only a fantastic piece of Asian cinema, but a brilliant film overall. Catch it if you can! (Special props to Jameson Dublin International Film Festival and the South Korean embassy for showing and supporting the film, respectively).

Simon says: an awesomely brutal introduction to Manhwa.

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