by Jason Suzuki
As Olive Films continues to grow that means the introduction of partnerships and sub-labels (Eclipse, FilmStruck). In September of 2015 they began a partnership with Slasher//Video to release such favorites as Killer Workout and Boardinghouse. This years sees the introductions of two expansions to their upcoming slate: Olive Signature, special edition re-releases of fan favorites (High Noon and Johnny Guitar being the first), and Oribu Anime, Olive's line for international animation. Yet, despite using the Japanese phonetic pronunciation of Olive (oribu) for its name, Oribu Anime debuts not with Japanese animation but two works from South Korea: Yeon Sang-ho's first two features King of Pigs (2011) and The Fake (2013). These releases could not come at a better time since interest in Yeon is most likely high due to his hit live-action debut Train to Busan.
When I first saw King of Pigs one year at Denver Film Fest, its disturbing story and relentlessly miserable tone stuck with me. I was reminded of Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue as I found Yeon's work to use animation to tell similarly mature stories with even less use of fantastical/subjective imagery. The low-budget nature of both productions is where the other resemblance comes in, both of these films are simply drawn and its lack of minuscule details being animated might be jarring for those used to lavish, fluid animated films where every detail is in constant motion. Only when someone is speaking, about to speak, or is in action do they move in King of Pigs and The Fake but as with Kon's film, you will almost immediately become wrapped up in the stories that you will not notice. It might also have to do with the intensity of their bleakness but Yeon writes provocative characters and puts them in must-watch situations. He also gets great performances from his cast particularly the three women of King of Pigs and the writer/director/actor Yang Ik-june (Breathless) who appears in both films.
King of Pigs
As far as Eastern animation goes Japan has been and still is number one. The King of Pigs is a hard-hitting and almost relentless exercise in the miserable.Two grown men, one psychotic and having just murdered his wife and the other a struggling writer with struggles with aggression of his own, meet up for the first time in years to reminisce on their grade school days when things were just as hopeless thanks to constant bullying. A boy name Chul-yi shows them the appealing path of violence and revenge and takes the two boys under his wing, hence the "King of Pigs." Yeon's film jumps back and forth between the present and the past. It is a narrative both mature in what it expects its audience to handle and so rewarding in how it gradually reveals more and more hurt. When South Korean animation gets more and more recognition, and not just the third parties who animate chunks of American children's blockbusters, The King of Pigs holds the title of the early title that does so much with very little.
Oribu Anime's disc of The King of Pigs has removable subs and actually has a bonus feature: a collection of cast and crew interviews which total up to 15:11 worth of supplemental material. Interviewees include director Yeon, actor Oh Jung-se, and the three actresses who portray the boys when they were younger: Kim Kkobi (Pluto, Greatful Dead), Park Hee-von (who would go on to star in The Fake), and Kim Hye-na. Unfortunately Yang Ik-june is missing whose insight would be interesting given he is a successful filmmaker himself.
When I first saw King of Pigs on its theatrical run, the film had less than stellar subtitles. While I cannot conform if this is a new translation, they do seem much better than the ones I remembered, despite still have the occasional grammatical error (I include a weird sentence from The Fake below).
Yeon's sophomore film exhibits an astounding amount of growth for him as a storyteller. Immediately you will be wrapped up in the stories of a drunken, abusive father who tries to prove a local elder is actually a con man taking the funds given to a pastor offering aide to a village being relocated due to the building of a dam. It's highly ambitious the way he juggles these characters, something he will do again with Train to Busan, and on top of that there is nothing overtly fantastical about the film's imagery. A common trope of an animated production, taking advantage of the freedoms allowed beyond the physical world, Yeon never finds need to visualize fantasy or hallucination, Instead he keeps pressing us further and further into the ugliness of the human condition and the link between religion and manipulation, never allowing his audience reprieve or much hope. This is real treat of Oribu Anime's debut.
Unfortunately The Fake has burned-in subtitles. This has happened before with their releases of international films like Sono's Love Exposure and Guilty of Romance which makes the optional subs for King of Pigs all the more surprising. Olive Films did make their release of Guilty of Romance worth buying as it had two versions of the film but their release of Love Exposure could not hold a candle to the love and care Third Window Films put into their's. Fortunately for Oribu Anime there is no other English friendly release of The Fake for them to compete with.
On a side note I had some trouble getting this disc to play on a few players. I tried it on a Playstation 4 and a Panasonic Blu-ray player. Both were able to recognize that a Blu-ray was in the drive, the PS4 even able to detect the name of the film but once I hit play it would get stuck on a black screen never being able to load to the menu. I reached out to Olive Films and apparently they have not had any similar reports and asked me to check my firmwares. I did and the problem continued. To give them benefit of the doubt I probably just got a faulty disc.
Before the only way to see any of these films was the Terracotta DVD of King of Pigs. For The Fake I could find no legitimate (or illegitimate for that matter) way to see the film once I had a renewed interest in Yeon thanks to Train to Busan. So while these releases are far from perfect it's great to have them. The bright side is that King of Pigs has removable subs and an extra and we can finally see The Fake. Maybe if Olive decides to do an Oribu Anime Signature line they can go back and correct short comings as well as include some of Yeon's short film work. Hopefully it's called Oribu Anime Shigunacha.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.