The Fake (사이비) is a brutal and intense viewing experience, with the shocking and visceral manner in which depicts a community under siege quite brilliantly executed. Director Yeon Sang-ho (연상호) has taken the dark themes he explored so wonderfully in King of Pigs (돼지의 왕) and expanded them into a wider sociological framework, and the result is a darkly explosive and constantly compelling social commentary.
A small village deep in the countryside is under threat from the construction of a new reservoir, which will submerge the whole community. With few options, the villagers turn to the newly formed church and its young priest for salvation, with their faith strengthened ever further by witnessing ‘miracles’. As their religious fervour becomes increasingly fanatical, a violent and abusive man returns to the village and, horrified by what he sees, attempts to reveal the machinations behind the church’s intent. Yet who should the country-folk believe – a man of God, or the devil himself?
The Fake adopts many of the conventions from the western genre as a lone ‘anti-hero’ returns from the wilderness to a corrupt civilisation. Director Yeon takes such motifs and intelligently plays with them in deconstructing Korean society, religion, and morality in ways both overt and nuanced, balancing them all incredibly well. Such a penetrating examination is conducted through the outsider character, who is far more devil than saint as he steals, drinks and beats women for his own selfish gain. Yet his status as an outsider also grants him the freedom of perception. With the threat of the reservoir – a wonderfully symbolic biblical flood – approaching, a con man and his young sidekick priest all too easily manipulate the villagers into doing their bidding by appealing to their base fears and desires. As the outsider attempts to reveal the scam and help them, the story explores just how illogical and frightening society can become when an ideology built on false promises is introduced and adhered to.
The examples of fanaticism that increase throughout the film are wholly believable, as the country-folk are continually duped by false miracles and promises set up by the clergy and his financial backer. As sick people refuse medicine in favour of ‘holy water’, women become prostitutes, as well as villagers selling property in order to donate to the church, The Fake is exemplary in depicting not only the seemingly inherent corruption within religious institutions but also the sheer ignorance of society as a whole, especially when under threat. There are no conventional ‘good’ characters to be found within the world of The Fake and as such the atmosphere generated is deeply intense and disturbing, and as the community continues to descend further into a moral abyss the film is consistently riveting.
It is also wonderfully ironic that the ‘saviour’ of the village is akin to the devil personified. At times even wielding a forked weapon and using fire, the outsider is an appalling brute who destroys everyone in his path and is routinely expelled from the community as the spawn of satan. His evil ways while speaking the truth are counter-balanced with the priest who behaves saintly while telling lies, and their interactions and conflicts are intelligent as well as explosive. The violence that occurs due to their personal war is ferociously bloodthirsty, with the fluidity of the animation a remarkable evolution for director Yeon. Indeed, with the exception of one rather ‘blocky’ church dancing scene, The Fake sports impressive visuals throughout whilst retaining director Yeon’s distinct style, with his use of colour and shadow adding tremendous weight to the intensity of the story.
The Fake, director Yeon Sang-ho’s second film, is a brutal, dark, and intense viewing experience that examines a rural community manipulated by a religious institution. Employing genre conventions from the western, director Yeon intelligently explores Korean social issues through the increasing conflict between con artists, duped villagers and evil men. The Fake is a genuine evolution of style for the director, and is a continually riveting and explosive social commentary on the nature of morality.