It's class warfare in the schoolyard with this ultra violent and super stylish animated parable from director Yeun Sang-ho.
A searing, savage parable about the brutal consequences of non-conformity, Yeun Sang-ho's animated drama The King Of Pigs owes as much to the bleak social commentary of William Golding and George Orwell as it does to directors like Satoshi Kon. It's a cruel, gruelling rhapsody of violence with a sturdy heart and moral fibre to spare.
Not for the faint-hearted, perhaps, but those brave enough to dip their toes into Yeun's blood red waters will find much to appreciate in his ugly and unflinching yarn. The elegance of the animation belies the ferocity of the bloodshed – this is serious, grown-up stuff, twisted and intelligent. The film's angry critique of Korean society doesn't just bubble gently below the surface, it seethes.
At the film's centre are two friends, novelist Jung Jong-suk (Yang Ik-june) and failed businessman Hwang Kyung-min (Oh Jeong-se), who reunite for the first time in fifteen years after Kyung-min dispatches his wife in an apparently unplanned and capricious murder. The wistful duo, unaware of the other's indiscretions and secrets, go to dinner and reminisce about their childhood years.
Their nostalgia, however, soon turns to memories of the agonising beatings suffered at the hands of 'The Dogs', an elite club of affluent students who use their privilege and power to lord over the weaker, more indigent section of the school, known as 'The Pigs'. Obsequious and desperate, Jong-suk and Kyung-min form an alliance with the fearless Chul (Kim Hye-na) and initiate a tentative resistance against the bourgeois tormentors.
Yeun's middle-school tableau is a society in microcosm, a masculine, kill-or-be-killed world in which those who refuse to play by the rules, or even wear the right kind of jeans, are subjected to a torrent of barbarity and humiliation. Truth be told, it's about as subtle as a brick to the knees but the film is so stylish, pugnacious and beguiling that it gets away with such polemic belligerence.
It helps that the violence here is anything but casual. The film is awash with cuts, bruises and scrapes. Every skirmish, every melee matters. When Chul defends himself by unbuckling his belt and swiping it across his assailant's face with cavalier abandon, the camera freezes for just a second before the impact, amplifying the full force of the collision.
At another key moment, Chul challenges Kyung-min and Jong-Suk to prove their worth by mercilessly beating a stray cat into a bloody, helpless pulp. Repulsive, sure, but it's a necessary act of bravado. Yeun challenges his characters to prove their social worth by showing just how far they're willing to go in order to assume control.
It's only when a knife is introduced to the fray later in the film that a tentative peace breaks out between the gangs. Blades drop like atom bombs. Mutually assured destruction in the playground.
A grim and fervid watch that nonetheless arrives with a heady amount of Cannes and Busan buzz.
Sang-ho's debut is knockout. A serious, thoughtful and ferocious allegory that delivers.
The King of Pigs rules.