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Ever since Osamu Tezuka's early 1960s work, Japan has become the controlling monolith of Asian animation. The King of Pigs dares to try and buck the trend. A Cannes Film Festival favourite from new-gun South Korean Yeon Sang-Ho, it's an unflinching take on class hierarchy and savagery in an inner city high school. Dangerous Minds meets Lord of the Flies? There are piggies abound, but the gangster terrains are far from paradisal.
After a fifteen year absence, old school friends Hwang and Jong reunite over dinner. But nostalgia isn't on the menu tonight, through lucid flashbacks, the pair discuss their upbringing with utter contempt; both still psychologically troubled by the culture of bullying, whereby the rich designer wearing kids prevail and the lowlives are berated, spat on and beaten to a pulp. Not a moment too soon, their lives are transformed when the ghostly student at the back of the classroom Kim Chul teaches them how to fight back in the most malevolent way possible.
Animator/director Yeon presents a truly vile story in the most attractive way possible, with the rusty Seoul backdrop lusciously well drawn and the school boys presented autonomously, yet each have their own striking gaze. Also working as the editor and screenwriter, the vengeance tale is presented in such a raw and aggressive way that the fight sequences are often uncomfortably palpable. A stunning quality for a animation picture to obtain.
But this is ultimately The King of Pig's undoing. While some of the hand-drawn animation and raw emotional connect leaves you gawking, the gritty and unsettling portrait of school feudalism is just so severe. Quite rapidly, Yeon shifts from the profound and resonating to the hysterical, particularly a painfully shouty final showdown. It's a great shame. What starts as an entertaining watch culminates in a sensorily attacking one.
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