The King of Pigs Blu-ray Review

Compelling Korean anime examines a dark childhood incident continuing to haunt adulthood

Korean anime director Yeun Sang-ho (The Fake) delivers a brutal tale of childhood bullying and emotional trauma in The King of Pigs. The 2011 animated film from South Korea paints a stark portrait of violence and intimidation, culminating in an unforgettable ending. While its low-budget animation is a little crude, The King of Pigs’ incisive story and memorable characters marked a new wave of sophisticated Korean filmmaking in the medium.

Hwang Kyung-min, a businessman on the verge of bankruptcy, finds an old classmate, Jung Jong-suk, whom he hasn’t seen for fifteen years. During a reunion dinner they look back on their unhappy school days, hiding their present situations from each other. There were class distinctions in their Korean middle school that made it tough for those on the bottom. The elite students known as ‘dogs’ – rich, successful and cruel, exercised a reign of terror over the weaker, poorer students known as ‘Pigs’.

Jong-suk and Kyung-min were at the bottom of this social ladder in school, forming a friendship out of their shared status. When transfer student Kim Chul, one of their fellow pigs, violently fights back against the bullies, they hope the cycle of fear is over. Now fifteen years later, Chul remains a hero to the childhood friends for fighting back. The two men recall the murky story of their youthful bond and eventually confront some shocking truths.

… the middle school children reveal how truly vicious and nasty they can be

The King of Pigs is a violent tale of bullying in school that ultimately ends in tragedy. The repercussions leave a lasting mark on everyone involved, even years later when Kyung-min and Jong-suk are adults. It’s an interesting examination of the changing psychological dynamics between bullies and their weaker prey. The emotional scars last far longer than their physical wounds.

Director Yeun Sang-ho’s careful story layers his characters with an intriguing complexity for animated fare. These are complicated personalities placed in a highly stressful, almost hopeless situation. What results is a frighteningly realistic scenario that ends in pain and violence. This is not a timid drama. No punches are pulled as the middle school children reveal how truly vicious and nasty they can be to other classmates. Everything spirals out of control in precise motion, leading to a shocking revelation.

Inspired by Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, Yeun Sang-ho has crafted a compelling tale of class differences in South Korea that leads to tragic consequences for a trio of boys in middle school. The King of Pigs is a strikingly mature, sophisticated film that just so happens to be animated. It could easily have been a live-action movie. Anime is often associated with more whimsical fare but this is a strongly crafted movie aimed at adult fans of serious drama.

The King of Pigs Blu-ray screen shot 14

Video

Oribu Anime, a division of Olive Films, puts out the animated Korean film in a solid transfer under fine technical parameters. The 97-minute main feature is encoded in transparent AVC at moderately high bitrates. Found on a BD-25, the 1080P video is presented in the film’s native 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This isn’t a flawless presentation, mostly reflecting some limitations in the source animation.

The digital transfer shows off the native animation in bold clarity. Modern anime is typically produced in the digital realm from the get-go, enabling a higher degree of color reproduction. The King of Pigs’ animation is on the crude side for modern anime, limited by sloppy character designs and stiff movement. Full-length animated films are rare for the Korean market and this represents a low-budget, rudimentary approach.

The primary issue involves minor color banding, mostly noticeable in a few early scenes. It’s likely the problem is baked into the animation, as animators sometimes have issues with dithering in cheaper animation. Everything else is fairly strong, from the consistently excellent contrast to smooth black levels. While the animation is definitely behind more polished anime from Japan, it gets the job done without getting in the way.

Audio

The original Korean-language soundtrack is offered in 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound with a decent stereo mix. Dialogue is clean with impeccable recording fidelity. Recorded in a studio, the mix offers crisp audio with engaging cues and some minor directionality across the stereo soundstage.

Optional English subtitles display in a white font.

Extras

This release includes cast and crew interviews filmed in Korea. Hardcore fans should be aware that a more extensive release with commentary and short films was released in South Korea. The Korean Plain Archive Blu-ray set included a commentary with cast and crew and a much more extensive interview with the director, among other things.

This BD is coded for Region A.

Cast and Crew Interviews (15:11 in upscaled HD) – Director Yeun Sang-ho discusses his inspiration for the movie and his hopes on working on future animated projects. Several voice actors from the cast give interviews, talking up the film and their characters. Like many animated productions, voice actresses were used to voice the young boys. English subtitles are provided for the Korean interviews.

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Click on the images below for full-resolution 1080P screenshots taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered during the process. Patreon supporters are able to access these screens early, view them as .pngs, and gain access to exclusives.