The King of Pigs (2011) by Yeon Sang-ho

Before Seoul Station and Train to Busan, there was The King of Pigs



Yeon Sang-ho's animated feature debut won three awards at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival and was selected to be screened in the Directors' Fortnight section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Personally, I consider it Yeon Sang-ho's best film. According to an unconfirmed piece of information from Wikipedia, the script is an exact depiction of events actually taking place, down to the last detail.

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The story revolves around two former classmates, businessman Kyung-min and writer Jong-suk. In the present, both of their lives are in shambles. Jong-suk is forced to do menial work, like ghost writing, and has to face a rather obnoxious boss who keeps demeaning him. His frustration erupts violently towards his wife, who, despite his behaviour, seems to love him very much.

Jong-suk is in an even worse position since his business has gone bankrupt, and he has just killed his wife. After the murder, he calls Jong-suk, who he has not met for 15 years, and the two of them go for a drink, and start reminiscing about the past. Through flashbacks, the movie reveals the situations they faced in school, in a story of bullying, drama and constant violence that also involves a third member, Kim Chul, the "King of Pigs".


Yeon Sang-ho (who is responsible for the direction, script, editing, character design and key animation, among others) uses the school environment to make a very harsh remark about a number of aspects of Korean society. The racism in school, where all students are classified according to the wealth of their families, who even give money to the school for their children to receive special treatment, is a main point of focus, as it highlights the concept of class warfare. The privileged are known as "dogs," while the bottom ones, as the three protagonists, are known as "pigs." The subsequent bullying that ensues from top to bottom is another key element of the film, as is the social injustice involved, with the teachers pretending not to realize what is going on, and always turning on the "pigs".

Kim Chul functions as a ray of hope in this hellish setting Kyung-min and Jong-suk live in, but this is not a happy-ending, light film, and Kim Chul's way to face the bullies is to become worse than them, by being even more violent than they are. The disgrace and constant bullying even makes the two others to begin acting accordingly, although their true nature eventually takes over.

Lastly, a minor comment regarding consumerism is presented through Jong-suk's sister, who functions as the epitome of the fashion victim.


The film is filled with violence, and Sang-ho pulls no punches in the depiction of these moments, with many and rather graphic scenes. However, violence is not here as a way to shock, but instead, as a natural aspect of life, and the main consequence of all that is occurring in the story. In that fashion, Sang-ho makes a very obvious and pointy comment about the roots and the never-ending cycle of violence, which finds its apogee during the revelations of the school story and the ending of the film.

The animation is rather good, and the character's movement looks realistic, for the most part. The drawing moves along the same path, although I found the style with the enormous heads in small bodies a bit awkward, particularly during some intense facial expressions. On the other hand, the many and rather intense violent scenes are very impressive, and the ones where the technical aspect of the movie finds its apogee. The editing is also quite good, retaining a rather fast pace, and injecting some scenes of calmness during the moments where the violence becomes too intense (for some that is, not for me).

"The King of Pigs" is an impressive debut and a great combination of social critique through an exploitative, but realistic setting.


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Asian Film Vault: The King of Pigs (2011) by Yeon Sang-ho
The King of Pigs (2011) by Yeon Sang-ho
Before Seoul Station and Train to Busan, there was The King of Pigs
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