Title: The King of Pigs / Dwaejiui Wang
Length: 1 x 96 minute movie
Genre: Thriller, horror, drama
Year of release: 2011
About halfway through the movie, I began picking up the thematic motifs of pigs, kings and hierarchies – I had a good hunch what this was probably based off of. It seemed like it was riffing on William Harding’s Lord of the Flies, with some reference to the famous (and infrequently published) Grimms tale, How Some Children Played At Slaughtering. These stories share a common goal to The King of Pig’s narrative of human detestability breeding far greater detestability, and is a common ground in the genre set at the absolute edge of human morality. However, it is to my utmost horror to find that The King of Pigs, in all its horrendous, horrifying and disturbing tragedy of boys and men discovering the darkest cores… is in fact based upon a true story. We’re no longer confined to the safety net of fiction and fictitious, fairytale plots – The King of Pigs plants its feet firmly in the ground to tell one of, if not the single most disturbing, yet authentic, story of humanity’s deepest evil.
From its first shot of Kyung-min’s dead wife flat against the kitchen table, The King of Pigs proposes a cold, unflinching view of – not violence, no, but life, death and its meaning. A barren soundscape, too, sets the scene for something more concerning than even meets the eye. There are a handful of times when the scenes morph into the uncanny, such as when the cat the protagonists killed haunts them in their dreams or when the already ugly, stylised faces of those standing-by morph into highly detailed pig masks, but the vast majority of the movie is entrancing in its utter realism.
The movie’s internal philosophy is one of tragic acceptance, consistently refusing to dramatise the horrors it must accept to live and thrive in the world, and it is the pains it goes to paint its horrors that makes The King of Pigs so enchanting. As a story told, this movie is then rather simple: Kyung-min invites middle school friend, the wife-beater Jong-suk, out to drinks to catch up – though Kyung-min becomes much more interested in reminiscing about Chul, who represents something more akin to a spiritual leader than a childhood friend. From the first flashback that the pair chat to Chul, it is in awe; he stood up to the bullies, so they view him as a hero, drenched in sunlight – but also a hero blotting out the sun. There’s a duality of visual storytelling that perfectly and beautifully matches the storytelling. The boys cannot escape a hierachial system of injustice, but it is through animal abuse and listening to Chul’s preaching on the weight of a blood-stained knife that they are offered a version of salvation.
The duality continues throughout the movie as the pair of protagonists balance a fine-line between sympathetic and evil. There is a deep level of understanding of the weight of that blood-stained knife, and when they stab that ferrel cat, it’s a scene equally disturbed as it is cathartic. As the movie progresses through its arcs of expulsion and new transfer students, its nihilism is tainting: you begin wishing for death, for somebody, and for the characters to come back down to earth. What happened to Chul, The King of Pigs; what happened to Kyung-min to grow him from a crybaby to a wife-murderer; what dramatic irony is it that lead Jong-suk into the writing profession when it represents one of the most depressing experiences of his middle school years? – the mystery of The King of Pigs is presented in such a way that, no matter how horrifying its imagery, you simply cannot look away.
In this review, I found myself wanting to hammer The King of Pigs – but all I can truly criticise is its stiff walking animation and weak sound recording; side effects of its incredibly modest $150,000 budget. How much joy would it be for me to call it out on its endless, gory nihilism? I wish I could write it off as unrealistic pomp. I wish I could laugh in its face and call it irrelevant… but I can’t. The King of Pigs is legitimate humane horror, and the impression it leaves is skin deep.