Running time: 97
Director: Sang-ho Yeon
Starring: Ik-Joon Yang, Jeong-se Oh, Hye-na Kim
Genre: Animation, Drama, Thriller
When Jong-suk and Kyung-min meet up for the first time since they left school, some fifteen years earlier, it’s unsurprising that their thoughts immediately turn back to their troubled days of bullying and a heroic and volatile figure that changed both their lives forever.
There are animations that deal with adult issues on a level that children can understand, Studio Ghibli and Pixar are two companies that handle this marvellously, then there is the other kind; the animation that looks to take the medium and push and poke and test the audience in order to evoke an emotional reaction and it is here in which Sang-ho Yeon’s The King of Pigs resides. What TKoP achieves, what sets it apart from a lot of animation out there that deals with violence, is that it manages to strike an almost impossible balance between visually shocking, sensory striking violence and an honest emotional core. There are several scenes of violence that in live action, or handled by another director, could drop out of the artistic realm and into the titillation camp that so many Japanese animations have achieved and in doing so have given the sub-genre of adult Asian animation a dirty little name.
The animation itself is somewhat traditional. TKoP is content with not pushing beyond boundaries that the likes of Akira drove for some twenty-six years ago content in its efforts to push for an emotional, and even narrative advancement of the genre. There are some genuinely beautiful moments of realism peppered throughout the film. The opening sequence is as visually intoxicating as anything you’ll see coming out of animation or live action anywhere in the world while the sequence with the stray cat has audiences captivated in a way that would be lost with real actors on screen. It’s not without issue though, some of the movements are clunky and trip the audience’s connection to the film as every once and a while it does feel a little more drawn than performed –an odd critique for an animated movie but when you’re stitched into the fabric of a narrative you don’t want to be reminded that the characters aren’t real until the credits roll.
Narratively the film has a couple of issues that could have been circumvented easily enough but land flat and a little repetitive at times but largely is an effort that is to be admired almost as much as it is to be enjoyed. Sang-ho Yeon does a great job in the construction of this piece as he crafts, not just a narrative tale, but a visual tale that fluidly plays with time and space in order to paint the richest picture possible for the audience. This is not only achieved by animation style but also a rich and distinct colour palette for each time period (both now, 2011) and then (1996). Even in the midst of physical and psychological assault there is the great hope that comes from youth, though it could quite as easily be fond recollection, but as the timelines of the movies draw closer there is a merging of mise-en-scene and colour that highlights beautifully the narrowing of life’s possibilities…I know it well.
Though far from perfect, Sang-ho Yeon delivers an intelligent, tense and emotionally honest animation with The King of Pigs. A psychological student of the orchids that many of the inner city youths, past, present and future, grow into and the damage humanity can have on itself if left unchecked.