A priest telling lies or a devil telling the truth - The Fake examines the nature of religion

The Fake (사이비) – ★★★★☆

The Fake (사이비)

The Fake (사이비)

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.

Religious fervour becomes increasingly fanatical as perceived threats loom on the horizon

Religious fervour becomes increasingly fanatical as perceived threats loom on the horizon

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.

A priest telling lies or a devil telling the truth - The Fake examines the nature of religion

A priest telling lies or a devil telling the truth – The Fake examines the nature of religion

Verdict:

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.

★★★★☆

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Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Reviews
The 18th Busan International Film Festival

BIFF 2013: Korean Cinema Today – Panorama

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

The 18th Busan International Film Festival

For exciting new Korean films, the Korean Cinema Today program at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) highlights some of the best and latest productions emerging from the industry.

Korean Cinema Today is separated into two sub-categories – Panorama and Vision. While Vision explores the latest independent films and exciting new filmmaking talent, Panorama showcases some of the big domestic and internationally acclaimed films, as well as more high profile world premieres.

The 14 films in Panorama 2013 contains some of the biggest names working in the industry today. For arthouse fans, Kim Ki-duk’s highly controversial Moebius, as well as two Hong Sang-soo films – Nobody’s Daughter Haewon and Our Sunhi – make appearances. Two directorial debuts are included in the form of superstar Ha Jeong-woo’s Fasten Your Seatbelt, and veteran actor Park Joong-hoon’s Top Star. King of Pigs director Yeon Sang-ho’s latest animation The Fake is featured. There are also exciting new projects that involve crowdfunding, human rights issues, and the debut of K-pop idol Lee Joon from MBLAQ in a lead role.

For the lowdown on all the films within the sub-category, please see below.

Korean Cinema Today – Panorama

Abbi (애비)

Abbi (Twisted Daddy) (애비)

Abbi (Twisted Daddy) (애비)

Director: Jang Hyun-soo (장현수)

Synopsis: Abbi – or rather, Twisted Daddy – is a drama about a father whose dedication to his son becomes out of hand. Working hard to ensure his son can study law and become successful, the aging father risks everything.

Another Family (또 하나의 가족)

Another Family (또 하나의 가족)

Another Family (또 하나의 가족)

Director: Kim Tae-yun (김태윤)

Synopsis: Crowdfunding was sourced to produce this real life legal drama about a woman who contracts leukemia while working at a Samsung factory. The film follows the family’s efforts overcome the disease as well as the corporation responsible.

The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File (베를린)

The Berlin File (베를린)

Director: Ryoo Seung-wan (류승완)

Synopsis: The Berlin File was a big hit upon release earlier his year. With an all-star cast including Ha Jeong-woo and Jeon Ji-hyeon, the action-thriller showcased director Ryoo’s style like never before. For the full review, please click here.

The Fake (사이비)

The Fake (사이비)

The Fake (사이비)

Director: Yeon Sang-ho (연상호)

Synopsis: Following on from his hugely successful film King of Pigs, director Yeon Sang-ho employs his biting cultural critique stylisation to explore corrupted religious officials who are holding a small town to ransom.

Fasten Your Seatbelt (롤러코스터)

Fasten Your Seatbelt (롤러코스터)

Fasten Your Seatbelt (롤러코스터)

Director: Ha Jeong-woo (하정우)

Synopsis: Fasten Your Seatbelt – or ‘Rollercoaster‘ in Korean – marks superstar Ha Jeong-woo’s directorial debut. The comedy sees mismatched characters collide when their plane encounters a typhoon.

God's Eye View (시선)

God’s Eye View (시선)

God’s Eye View (시선)

Director: Lee Jang-ho (이장호)

Synopsis: Lee Jang-ho was a prominent director during the 1970s and ’80s, and after an 18 year hiatus has re-entered filmmaking with God’s Eye View. The film explores a group of missionaries whose faith wanes after abduction by Islamic rebels.

Genome Hazard (무명인)

Genome Hazard (무명인)

Genome Hazard (무명인)

Director: Kim Sung-su (김성수)

Synopsis: A co-production between Korea and Japan, sci-fi Genome Hazard depicts a man seemingly losing his sanity following the apparent death of his wife. Director Kim previously worked with Park Chan-wook and Son Il-gon.

If You Were Me 6 (어떤 시선)

If You Were Me 6 (어떤 시선)

If You Were Me 6 (어떤 시선)

Directors: Min Yong-keun (민용근), Lee Sang-cheol (이상철), Shin A-ga (신아가), Park Jung-bum (박정범)

Synopsis: Produced by the National Human Rights Commission, this omnibus film represents radically different stories about people living on the fringes of society, and the hardships they endure.

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Moebius (뫼비우스)

Director: Kim Ki-duk (김기덕)

Synopsis: Moebius was marred by controversy before it was released.  Kim Ki-duk’s psychosexual thriller examines a family torn apart by adultery, penis dismemberment, and incest.

My Boy (마이보이)

My Boy (마이보이)

My Boy (마이보이)

Director: Jeon Kyu-hwan (전규환)

Synopsis: Town trilogy and The Weight director Jeon Kyu-hwan explores the life of an impulse disorder patient and his long-suffering family in My Boy. cultural attitudes towards mental health and the medical system are examined.

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원)

Director: Hong Sang-soo (홍상수)

Synopsis: University student Haewon feels lonely following her mother’s departure for Canada, and contacts married lover – and professor – Seong-joon. A story of a young woman’s quest for identity.

Our Sunhi (우리 순희)

Our Sunhi (우리 순희)

Our Sunhi (우리 순희)

Director: Hong Sang-soo (홍상수)

Synopsis: Sunhi is a film student who, wishing to continue her studies in America, seeks a recommendation letter from her professor. Yet in doing so, she unwittingly allows 3 different men attempt to advise her over her future.

Rough Play (배우는 배우다)

Rough Play (배우는 배우다)

Rough Play (배우는 배우다)

Director: Shin Yeon-shick (신연식)

Synopsis: A sequel of sorts to Rough Cut, Rough Play is concerned with a rising film star who becomes involved with gangsters, leading to a downward spiral. Based on an idea by Kim Ki-duk, the film features K-pop idol Lee Joon from MBLAQ in the lead role.

Top Star (톱스타)

Top Star (톱스타)

Top Star (톱스타)

Director: Park Joong-hoon (박중훈)

Synopsis: Veteran actor Park Joong-hoon makes his debut with Top Star, a film about a talent manager who suddenly becomes a superstar. Yet as his popularity increase, so does his arrogance and determination to stay at the top.

 

Busan International Film Festival (제18회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2013
The cruelty and injustice of life becomes too much to endure for the friends

King of Pigs (돼지의 왕) – ★★★★☆

King of Pigs (돼지의 왕)

King of Pigs (돼지의 왕)

‘Mature animations’ have, rather unfortunately, rarely been a staple in ‘Western’ cinematic culture. ‘Mature’ has often been mistaken for ‘sexualised’ due to marketing ploys attempting to introduce the concept. Yet in ‘Eastern’ cinema mature animations have proved popular for exploring a variety of adult and socio-political themes, ideological explorations which would often require a vast budget in the live-action arena.

Through his independent feature King of Pigs (돼지의 왕), writer/director Yeon Sang-ho (연상호) has produced an exceptionally powerful social critique of Korean culture. While the limited budget is at times visible and the acting occasionally over-zealous, King of Pigs is a stark and violent examination of patriarchal and hierarchical society, as well as the role of capitalism and corruption in defining one’s existence.

As a struggling writer, Jeong Jong-seok (Yang Ik-joon (양익준) is continually frustrated in his attempts at becoming a published author. Bullied by his boss for daring to give an opinion over a piece of writing, Jong-seok has a violent encounter with his wife as a result. Storming outside to clear his head, Jong-seok receives a call from a childhood friend he hasn’t spoken to in several years, Hwang Kyeong-min (Oh Jeong-se (오정세). Meeting for dinner, the two old friends reminisce about their youth and the difficulties of living and studying in an all boys’ middle school. Yet the conversation takes a darker tone when the topic of their old mutual friend Kim Cheol (Kim Hye-na (김혜나) arises, and secrets long buried are finally revealed.

After 15 years of no contact, Kyeong-min (right) calls Jong-seok for a reunion

After 15 years of no contact, Kyeong-min (right) calls Jong-seok for a reunion

King of Pigs is an incredibly gritty, violent examination of the childhood years experienced by contemporary middle aged men, and pulls no punches in emphasizing the Confucian and capitalist value systems as the route of all evil in Korean society. The narrative is one of the most powerful expressions of ‘Han’ cinema in recent years as the social injustice and inequality depicted provide the protagonists with palpable angst and rage, which director Yeon Sang-ho exploits by increasing tension to such an uncomfortable degree that violence is not only a prerequisite but a virtual demand. When it does transpire, the action is beautifully cathartic as the fluid animation and camera movement weaves amongst the kicks and punches as they impact the transgressors, as much a commentary on audience desire as it is on bullying. King of Pigs is a success largely due to such well-structured sequences and the shockingly compelling narrative as it jumps between Jong-seok and Kyeong-min’s childhood years and their adult lives. While the former certainly takes precedence the consequences are conveyed in the present, adding layers of depth as the protagonists’ formative years unfold. Indeed, it is remarkable just how many social discourses are contained within the film. While bullying is rife within all cultures, the tactics employed within this particular school are not only predicated on physicality but also in wealth, age, gender, social relationships and parental influence making King of Pigs a distinctly Korean affair as the hierarchy self-perpetuates due to its Confucian heritage. As Jong-seok, Kyeong-min and Chul have precious little of the necessary attributes they are cast to the lowest ranks of the school pecking order, and the resentment that evolves and festers is startling to behold. Yet the narrative is also concerned with the private lives of the three friends, which allows the conveyance of such concepts on a societal scale as they witness misogyny, crime and corruption as the people around them seek power only to abuse it. As frustration and resentment engulf the trio, they wish desperately to alter their role as merely a ‘pig’ in the hierarchy yet are tragically aware that such a role defines them for life.

The continuous bullying forces Chul (left) to take a stand against the aggressors

The continuous bullying forces Chul (left) to take a stand against the aggressors

However, while the narrative of King of Pigs is strong and highly symbolic, it is not without problems. While it feels an unfair point to criticize, the limited budget does occasionally appear through the animation as characters move robotically  in certain scenes, particularly in sequences where a large number of people enter the frame. This is in stark contrast to the fluidity of action scenes and the difference is quite jarring and somewhat distracting.

The vocal talents of the cast are generally very competent and sincere, particularly by the actors voicing the protagonists as children. Kim Hye-na stands out in this regard as poverty-stricken delinquent Kim Cheol, who performs the array of poignant moments and aggressive events well. As adults the vocal talents have less significant screen time, yet Breathless director Yang Ik-joon conveys the tragic frustrations of Jong-seok especially well. There are moments however when the acting becomes over-zealous, notably with Oh Jeong-se as Kyeong-min who is at times is rather hysterical. Luckily the supporting cast and the strength of the narrative make sure that such moments are short-lived, as the film deftly focuses on the characterization of all the protagonists in both time periods.

The cruelty and injustice of life becomes too much to endure for the friends

The cruelty and injustice of life becomes too much to endure for the friends

Verdict:

King of Pigs is a bold, unflinching animation that portrays an incredible examination of a variety of social discourses in Korean culture. Writer/director Yeon Sang-ho has crafted a well-structured and gripping narrative with incredible depth, where the stylized violence is not only naturalized but, through the build of tension, desired. While budget limitations and over-zealous acting occasionally appear, King of Pigs is a riveting film not only in terms of the animation genre but, due to the uncompromising concept of ‘Han’ throughout, a compelling entry into Korean cinema.

★★★★☆

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