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rochefort [Film Festival 09.24.12] Republic of Korea animation drama

Kyung-Min is a perpetually depressed man with a failing business; and he's just killed his wife. Across town, his old school chum Jong-Suk, a struggling writer, has violently lashed out at his girlfriend and falsely accused her of sleeping with another man. He soon receives a surprising phone call from Kyung-Min, who asks that they get together and meet for the first time in years. When they do, it's obvious they really only want to talk about one thing: their mutual friend from back in middle school, Chul-Yi, the tough kid who defended them both from the older bullies, or "dogs", who made their life hell throughout their school years, and whom they dubbed the King of Pigs. As they relive the brutal events that eventually culminated in tragedy, new and disturbing truths finally come to light.

There's been a lot of adult animation out there for decades, but rarely does it plumb such bleak and nihilistic depths as this one. King of Pigs is a new animated film from South Korean director Yeun Sang-ho, and is a semi-autobiographical account of his own experiences as one of his school's "pigs", the lower class bottom of the social caste. The choice to animate the story is a primarily stylistic one; there are few, if any scenes that couldn't have been suitably executed as live action, and there's nothing all that fanciful here, nothing that breaks the laws of physics. This is the dark side of children's animation, a frequently violent and cruel tale of bullies and victims that plays like a demonic bedtime story.

After watching the frail Kyung-Min and Jong-Suk take one beating too many from the older and wealthier boys in their class, Chul-Yi, hardened by many similar such beatings, turns the tables on the "dogs" and becomes the tortured boys' hero. But when Chul-Yi teaches them that the only way to defend against brutality is to become even more brutal, the sanity of his young charges begins to unravel. The scenes where they egg each other on to harden up and learn to hate without limit are gruelling, and I'm not kidding when I say that if you were caught showing these scenes to your kids it wouldn't be long before Child Protective Services showed up. Bitter, relentless, and emotionally exhausting, King of Pigs is, on the surface, about the destructive price of denial, but there's an evident parallel, too, one that suggests that most people are just plain ugly at the core. It's though-provoking enough to be a very worthwhile watch, but it will put a zap on your head, so be prepared.

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