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Twisted revenge tale gives anime dark edge

BIFF award-winning ‘The King of Pigs’ first of its kind in Korea

After this year’s huge box office hit “Leafie,” Korea’s animation scene sees the arrival of a highly controversial work sure to leave an impact long after its theater run.

A low-budget feature debut by director Yeun Sang-ho, “The King of Pigs” claims to be “the first animated vicious thriller in Korea.” Unlike “Leafie,” which sold over two million tickets with its PG rating, the film targets adult viewers only. Ironic, since the $150,000-budget film is a middle school flick, though filled with brutal bullying and violence.

Yeun, who has released two short animated films since 2006, started working on this highly successful feature debut -- The piece won three awards at BIFF this year, including the NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) Award and Movie Collage Award -- on his own in 1998.
A scene from “The King of Pigs” (Adam Space)
A scene from “The King of Pigs” (Adam Space)

“I like this piece a lot because it’s my own creation, but I had no idea what others would think,” Yeun told reporters after a press premiere of the film on Wednesday, on his winning at BIFF.

“I was relieved after the first screening, as I heard some positive responses. But I really didn’t expect to win any awards. I feel lucky and thankful.”

The movie tells the story of two middle school friends who are reunited 15 years after their graduation. It begins as Kyung-min, one of the two, impulsively murders his wife after his business goes bankrupt. He seeks out his long-lost friend Jong-suk, who now makes his living by ghostwriting someone’s autobiography.

The duo’s awkward and gloomy reunion is mixed with flashbacks of their teenage years, when they were both severely bullied and even sexually harassed by their cruel classmates. They were both small in stature, weak academically and lived in a poor neighborhood.

Back in the days, the two became friends with Chul, a charismatic yet morbid outsider convinced “one has to become a monster in order not to live like a loser.” Chul had planned a gruesome revenge against the class bullies, and the viewer will only find out the shocking truth of his plan at the end of the film.

Once the screen goes black, it’s hard to figure out whether you want to cry or be sick. Then the credits roll up the screen.

Many of the bullies and what they do in the film are based on what director Yeun actually witnessed during his middle school years. The part where the bullies cut off Jong-suk’s jeans, which he secretly stole from his sister, and make fun of him for being a “pansy,” or when one of the classmates gets urine thrown at him for trying to help those who are bullied, are based on his real-life experiences.

“It’s really easy to talk about the lives of the less privileged,” Yeun said. “It’s really easy to say things like, well, you’ve just got to try harder. I really want this film to be an hour and a half-long experience for my viewers, to feel what it means to be completely hopeless.”

Many would be surprised to find out the three middle school boys are in fact voiced by female actresses, instead of professional dubbing artists. Kim Hye-na, Kim Ggot-bi, and Park Hee-bon give impressive performances, bringing the realistic sound of the young boys whose voices haven’t been broken just yet.

“I tried to bring the lowest voice of my own, and spoke in that voice for about a week on purpose before starting recording for the movie,” said Kim Hye-na, who played the charismatic Chul, in her real voice which sounded totally different from the character.

“My goal was to have my close friends not recognize my voice at all throughout the movie.”

Using rough and grim animation, Yeun deftly links the duo’s past and present -- both of which are unfortunate -- showing how bullying and other forms of oppression can have a life-long effect. With much intelligence and social awareness, the film captures a series of moments that take away one's reason and hope to live.

The film opens in theaters on Nov. 3. 

By Claire Lee (