Saibi (The Fake) Review

Posted: May 6, 2014 in Foreign, Reviews
Tags: , , , ,

2013 - The Fake (still 6)Yeon Sang-ho’s first feature film, Dwae-ji-ui wang (The King of Pigs), achieved a certain notoriety and acclaim on the festival circuit as an animated film that offered an unusually brutal and vivid depiction of bullying in a South Korean middle school and the ramifications of the abuse on the victims and their subsequent relationships as adults. Sang-ho’s follow-up, Saibi or The Fake, shows that the director and writer continues to develop as this work offers a richer and more nuanced plot and greater depth in characterization. The animation is improved as well.

That is not to say that the movie is easier to watch.

If anything, the world Sang-ho depicts here is even more nihilistic than the one seen in his earlier film. Rarely will a filmmaker present a story in which there is no hero, only despicable predators and hapless victims. The language is extreme; the violence is graphic. Forget the cliché that this is not a cartoon for kids. In fact, many adults would find this film objectionable.

A rural village in South Korean will soon be flooded after the construction of a dam. A church hastily erected on the outskirts promises salvation both now and later. In addition to having an inside track to one of 144,000 places in heaven, parishioners will also be moved to an idyllic community when their town is submerged. Naturally, both offers are subject to certain conditions, namely the turning over of all of one’s one wealth and possessions to the Church.

Choi Gyeong-seok (voiced by Kwon Hae-hyo) is the front man for the operation, the church elder who warms up the crowd for the Reverend Sung Chul-woo (Oh Jung-se). Reverend Sung is a true believer who is either unaware or unwilling to recognize that the lame who can suddenly walk might just be actors hired by the elder Choi.

The desperate townsfolk are enthralled with one exception: the village scumbag, Yang Ik-june (Kim Min-chul) who celebrates his return to his home by stealing his daughter’s college fund and gambling it away before getting drunk and then arrested. Yang is suspicious of the church, and his suspicions are confirmed when he learns that Choi is a wanted con man. Yet, Yang is such a lowlife himself that neither the police nor the church goers will listen to his incredibly blasphemous and anatomically specific allegations.

Thumbnail descriptions of The Fake present it as director Sang-ho’s attack on organized religion. In fact, the message is more complex. Certainly, religious hucksters are a target, but disbelievers are not venerated. The teller of truth does not necessarily receive reward or redemption. Whether it is a criminal act of fraud or simply mean-spirited abuse directed at those seeking solace, any who sin against those with true faith suffer. The need to believe is not criticized by Sang-ho. Rather those who would exploit the devout or mock the pious are evil and deserve punishment. That approach is what makes the final scene in the film so powerful.

For all the fervor of his first two full-length films Sang-ho would do well to recognize that not every movie needs to be a crusade. He would be well served by injecting some light into his leitmotif. Presenting humor, beauty, and good, even in small, endangered doses would not undercut the points he wishes to make.

In addition, he desperately needs to develop more well-rounded female characters. Kim Young-sun, who voices the role of Yang’s daughter, spends almost the entire film shrieking as a victim of either one man or another. Women are sufferers or bystanders in The Fake as they were in The King of Pigs.

If Sang-ho continues to move along the learning curve at such a rapid rate, it is easy to imagine his subsequent efforts in animation as must-see movies for fans of ultra-realistic graphic novels or the like.

Two and a half stars.

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