The King of Pigs (2011)

2 Aug

Like many films that concentrate on the abuses and casual brutalities of childhood, The King of Pigs (Dir. Yeun Sang-Ho) seems to be, at first glance, an examination into the nature of human cruelty in general. To say that, at its core, this film is about bullying —or even more generally about human cruelty— would be a gross simplification though. At the root of the conflicts The King of Pigs depicts, from corrosive brand-fetishism to petty theft, animal abuse and casual sexual molestation and shaming among seeming peers, lies the underlying tension of an abusive class conflict.

Such is the one our protagonists find themselves in, governed by a student hierarchy which dominated by abusive rich kids who simultaneously function as thugs and model students —a benefit of greater resources at home, and the reason that they are able to hide behind adult authority when their reign of terror and subjugation is threatened. As Jong-Suk and Kyung-Min discover though, such abuse breeds its own dissent. Embodied in this story by the character Chul, a poor kid with a violent streak of his own and embittered with the belief that if one is to fight ugliness, one must be even uglier. No one in this story is a hero, but I found myself cheering at the unsettlingly realistic violence Chul inflicts upon his abusers, made all the more unsettling because they are animated children. Ultimately, this is a story that cannot end well, and Yeung Sang-Ho tells it with frankness, honestly and just enough pathos to communicate his protagonists’ pain and cruelty without alienating them from us. The film also does a great job of creating characters who are both fundamentally unlikable, and entirely understandable.

Very few films are equipped to deal with the actual day to day humiliations and defeats inherent in structural first-world poverty —a poverty made all the more humiliating and alienating by the fact that it exists in such close proximity to the judgmental, despising gaze of those who ‘succeed’. Despite some jarring grammatical errors in the supplied subtitles, The King of Pigs succeeds where other films refuse to tread.

By Camilo Diaz-Pino


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