Directors’ Fortnight Mystery, Drama |97MINᅵDIGITAL
Director YEUN Sang-ho Cast YANG Ik-june, OH Jeong-se, KIM Hye-na, KIM Kko-bbi International Sales Indiestory
It was the debut of a lifetime. YEUN Sang-ho’s first feature animation, <The King of Pigs>, accomplished a triple crown at last year’s Busan International Film Festival when it won the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) Award, Movie Collage Award and DGK Director’s Award. In November of that same year the movie was released in theaters and grabbed over 19,000 admissions, according to the Korea Box Office Information System. These numbers may not seem huge, but for an indie film they weren’t small either. The investment that generated these accolades was a mere USD $150,000; the movie, a Studio Dadashow film, was produced by The King of Pigs Production Council and distributed by KT&G Sangsangmadang.
A Cold-blooded Thriller on Teenage-boys
While this film is about youth, one should definitely not expect a beautiful animation full of hopes and a bright future for its child characters. <The King of Pigs> is a cold-blooded thriller about how young, fragile boys become monsters after being dragged through turmoil and violence. Jong-seok (YANG Ik-june) is a mediocre writer. Although having always wanted to write a novel, he works only as a ghostwriter in real life. Additionally, it’s obvious he’s not even a good ghostwriter, seeing how he’s constantly rejected by his boss at the publishing company. Drowned in defeat, the only thing he seems to be capable of is losing control of himself and throwing his fists at his girlfriend. One day, he receives a phone call. It’s his childhood friend, the ‘crybaby’ Gyeong-min (OH Jeongse). But the man who came to see Jong-seok was certainly not a crybaby anymore. Nicely dressed in a suit, Gyeong-min is apparently a CEO now. He tells Jong-seok that he wants to reminisce about another friend from their past, Cheol (KIM Hyena). Over a bottle of soju, the two begin to reel in the memories.
Fifteen years ago, young Jong-seok (KIM Kko-bbi) and Gyeong-min (PARK Hee-bon) were both ‘pigs’ -- the lowest class of students. Classmate Gang-min (CHO Yeong-bin) and his gang of popular friends were always forgiven for their misdeeds, and they controlled and bullied Jong-seok, Gyeong-min and the other classmates. Other children were just playthings for Gang-min and his gang. Gyeong-min was no exception. Yet he could suffer with a smile, a last resort to save his dignity. Jong-seok hated Gyeong-min for his quiet acquiescence, but he too had no other way to counter the bullies. One day he comes to school in his sister’s Guess jeans, but when others find out they are girls jeans, the kids bully him for being a ‘homo.’ Still, there is nothing Jong-seok can do about Gang-min’s reign of terror. That’s when Cheol comes into the picture.
‘Our Twisted Hero’ in 2D & 3D Animation
In the sense that <The King of Pigs> confronts violence in schools, it reminds us of films such as K.T. KWAK’s <Friend> or YU Ha’s <Spirit of Jeet Keun Do - Once Upon a Time in High School>. The film also recalls <Our Twisted Hero>, the film adaptation of LEE Mun-yeol’s novel. Jong-seok’s episode with the Guess jeans and other incidents that take place in the film’s classroom were in fact actual events observed or experienced by the director YEUN Sang-ho. Nevertheless the director resists turning his work in a heroic tale of Cheol’s revenge or a story that simply reminisces about the past. It is true that Cheol acts like a hero, standing up for Jong-seok and Gyeong-min and fighting against Gang-min and his friends. However, it is not a hero that Cheol has become. It’s a monster. Cheol imposes on the two boys the imperative to become villains, showing them how to act tough and violent, claiming that “if you don’t want to keep living like a loser, you must become a monster.” But Gang-min’s gang is not an easy target, even for a monster. After being hit hard by Cheol, the gang brings in a big friend from the class next door, who in turn brings in his own gang, and the sheer number of bullies overwhelms Cheol and his sympathizers. Amidst this ugly and messy power game, the only option left for Jong-seok and Gyeong-min is to remain ‘pigs.’
What permitted the film to portray the ugly truths of school violence with such vividness, despite its low budget, was 3D dummy animation technology. 3D dummy animation captures the overall layout and animations in 3D and then draws them in 2D. Only when there is a need for precise detail, such as a crease in some clothing or the changing direction of the wind, was a traditional 2D method employed. With students from the Animation Department of the Chungkang College of Cultural Industries, director YEUN Sang-ho’s animation production company, Studio Dadashow, was able to complete some 50,000 drawings in the relatively short period of five months, all because of the 3D dummy animation technique. Unfortunately, the company closed down after finishing <The King of Pigs> as there was no way to maintain it; monthly labor expenses alone were running over USD $8,900.
An Exploration of Youth Violence
Voice directing was another aspect of the film’s production that YEUN put much effort into. The adult voices were acted by YANG Ik-june (actor and director of 2008’s <Breathless>), actor OH Jeong-se (<Quick>, 2011; <As One>, 2012), and actress KIM Hye-na (<Cafe Noir>, 2009) while actress KIM Kko-bbi (<Breathless>) and PARK Hee-bon (<Read My Lips>, 2010; <The Last Blossom>, 2011) voiced the characters when they were young.
In conclusion, let’s return to the demonized child, Cheol. Even as a monster, what could he have done under his dire circumstances? And what choice did Jong-seok and Gyeong-min force on Cheol? The fact that the film looks back in time, in search of how its characters were pushed to such desperate measures, makes <The King of Pigs> as much a personal anecdote about Jong-seok and Gyeong-min as it is an exploration of youth violence.