blank'/> Cinema Reviews: The King of Pigs: 'cold bodies tumbling together'

Monday, April 20, 2015

The King of Pigs: 'cold bodies tumbling together'

Wow...for anyone who has ever been bullied in their life this is going to resonate with full force, like a savage beating itself. The first half will alternatively fill you with anger, outrage or sad recognition, and drag you reluctantly back to High School where all the old wounds you'd hoped had scabbed over will be torn open afresh. The old cliques, power struggles and ridiculous hierarchies of Secondary Education come into view, along with the victims and betrayals for self preservation. Ultimately everyone learns their place in the pecking order, and even those who fight back (like the new student Chan Young) soon learn submission in order to survive. All except (seemingly, in the beginning) the student Chul-Yi (The eponymous King of Pigs).

The opening scene of the film deals with the scars of victim hood and impotent rage. Kyung-Min has strangled his wife after the failure of his business venture. Just like during his teenage years, the 'cry baby' weeps uncontrollably in the shower - a man with the emotional maturity of a teenager; locked in this stage by his tormentors and his experiences. He sees the ghostly figure of Chul in the abandoned house where he, Chul and Jong-Suk used to meet as teens. Chul describes the distinction between Dogs and Pigs in this world; Dogs are the entitled, the wealthy who mange to "live a good life without doing much" and Pigs are the poor, the "losers" who Dogs feed off, whether this is their hard work or their suffering.

The first half of the film deals with the three leads (Chul, Kyung-Min and Jong-Suk) and asserts that the only way to win the respect of your tormentors is to become an even bigger monster than them. The futility of this assertion and the sad ends it leads to are punctuated at the film's end; everyone suffers, no body wins (at least no-one poor), nothing changes.

But the film's scope is much broader than the savage realities of high school, in the second half it surprisingly opens to attack the very nature of life itself - life for the dis-empowered, the disenfranchised and those on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. Jong-Suk catches his sister stealing a walkman; she wants to learn to use it so she can remain part of popular culture, the elite and not get left behind in her poor family's lifestyle. Though her needs are materialistic she acknowledges where her life is potentially headed and vows to avoid it at all costs. From this point on we are presented with multiple characters acknowledging their impoverished reality and how desperate/helpless they are to escape it. The Mother of Chul is a prostitute in a karaoke bar run by Kyung-Min's father. She squats outside on the phone to her sister, asking why her life is so terrible, desperate for the 'happy' life that will seemingly always be denied her.

Even Chul, who devises a plan to get back at their tormentors by committing suicide at the school, making it impossible for the 'dogs' to ever remember School as a 'happy' memory, ultimately caves in, asking Kyung-Min to alert the teachers when he stands on top of the ledge. Chul wants to change his ways, not fight back at his oppressors, ignore them and live a 'happy life'. Chul is ultimately betrayed by Jong-Suk who pushes him off the ledge, unable to accept the King of Pigs abdicating the throne to sabotage their great revenge on the 'Dogs'

It's possible the film didn't need to explore the wider society surrounding the leads; it arguably would have been a much tighter and more impactful experience just focusing on the three boys and the revenge-suicide and betrayal. I for one found that in the second half my reasoning kicked in and started arguing "Yes, but this is relentlessly bleak and life ISN'T like that; happiness, however fleeting, can be found in messages and conversations from friends and loved ones, small successes, personal achievements" Now granted, I come from a reasonably comfortable, middle-class existence so I don't know what the experience of life is like for people from a lower socioeconomic background, but the relentless bleakness and suffering presented in the second half strains credulity; even poor kids can simply have fun in each others company, even amongst the darker moments there is light.

I would argue this is the weakness of the film, it's blanket bleakness; it's strength lies paradoxically in how relentlessly it pursues it's societal targets; it grips the inequalities of existence by the throat and refuses to let go until the bitter end.

There are two really poignant moments at the film's conclusion, one before and then after Kyung-Min's suicide from the same school building Chul fell from. When Kyung-Min confronts Jong-Suk with the knowledge he saw Jong-Suk push Chul, Jong-Suk strangles him and accuses him of trying to betray their great revenge. Kyung-Min simply smiles and says "Jerk. So what became different?" Immediately Jong-Suk releases him; Chul's death ultimately changed nothing, the 'Dogs' are still on top and life continues, nothing changes (This is one of the major themes of the film, 'helplessness'). The second moment involves Jong-Suk crying over the phone to the wife he earlier abused for unfounded suspicions of infidelity; she asks him "Where are you?" and he lifts his face in horror, the camera pulls back to an aerial shot: he is in 'that place called the world', the scariest place of all, where the cold 'bodies tumble together'.

Ultimately the film left me feeling shattered and truly terrified. My blood was pumping madly through the first half and then my body was clenched through the second half. Painful, sobering, somehow rewarding viewing - if only for being a film that doesn't make you feel like an idiot for those times inside your head which aren't hallmark moments; where you question existence and the necessity to carry on.

The only thing I strongly objected to was the talking ghost cat. No thanks, devil cat took me out of the film:p

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