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Original Title:

South Korea 2000

Drama, Comedy

Kim Ji-woon

Song Kang-ho
Jang Jin-Young
Kim Su-ro
Jang Hang-Seon
Go Ho-kyung
Jeong Woong-in
Jung Doo-hong
Song Young-chang
Goo Shin

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The Foul King

Story: Dae-ho (Song Kang-ho) is an unsuccessful fellow, who lives at his father's home and who's still a little insecure child in his heart. Being mentally, as well as physically, bullied by his boss (Song Young-chang), because of his bad work performance and constantly being late, Dae-ho decides to change his life. In order to counter his boss' headlock with which he tyrannizes him, Dae-ho seeks out the help of a martial artist. However, this doesn't seem to be the right thing for Dae-ho. One day he passes a run-down wrestling dojo and as he has been fasinated by this kind of sport since his early childhood, he wants to become a disciple. Yet, the trainer refuses to take him in.
Things change when the wrestling trainer needs a new student who can follow in the footsteps of the famous "Foul King", and thus he eventually accepts Dae-ho as a disciple. Dae-ho doesn't only prove to be very eager to learn, but is also pretty fearless when he stands in the ring. There isn't much left of his former shyness as he finally finds his self-esteem thanks to wrestling. He's also a different person outside of the ring as his sudden confession of his feelings towards one of his female co-workers is proof of. Yet, at the same time he also gets closer to the trainer's daughter.
Despite some missteps Dae-ho finally seems to have found his way. But the great finale is still to come...

Review: A Korean movie about wrestling and it's also from Kim Ji-woon ("The Quiet Family")? This has everything what promises to be an interesting piece of movie. And in fact Kim doesn't disappoint with his second movie. He creates a well-done genre-mix of a drama and a comedy. The director focuses more on the sociocritical aspect of his movie or at least tries to shed some light on certain themes, but he doesn't do so without working in some of his own special kind of deadpan and black humor. There are no real laugh-out-loud moments, but the jokes surely aren't bad. When Dae-ho's boss is taking his employee into a headlock, because he once again arrived too late at work, it is some pleasently absurd kind of humor. This sort of humor also works so well as the rest of the film is actually rather tranquil and serious, serving the drama with a well contrast and reminding us a bit of Takeshi Kitano's works. Every now and then, there are some really odd situations you get to see. For some this humor might not work out that well, but even then it's still easy to get along with it, anyway.

Despite the obvious wrestling plot the movie actually deals about Dae-ho as your typical midlife crisis candidate. Being quite timid and without any perspective in life he lives life as it comes and thus is a pitiable being. His sometimes childish character, however, makes it easy for the viewer to sympathize with him. It's entertaining to accompany him on his road of becoming an "adult", who before anything else finally gets one important thing: self-esteem. It's not uncommon that you need a mask to hide behind in order to be able to develop a new personality, which slowly grows out to the exterior, eventually. In this case, it's the mask of the legendary wrestler "Foul King" with which help Dae-ho becomes the person who he always wanted to be. If he actually does become successful as a sportsman or not is insignificant. Thus, it shouldn't be a surprise that the fact that "Foul King" is centering around wrestling also oftentimes takes a backseat. As a matter of fact, wrestling is only a byproduct of the plot and could have easily been replaced by any other kind of sport or form of art.

Kim Ji-woon sheds light on the character Dae-ho with the necessary amount of credibility and honesty, that is indispensable for a movie of this kind to work as a drama. Nevertheless, you can't overlook the constant wink in this movie, which is mainly thanks to some wacky characters and pretty absurd scenes.
Almost quiet and careful Kim tells his story, and still he always makes sure that his work has the right pacing. At the end, we even get a small action highlight in shape of an extended wrestling match.

Concerning the acting Song Kang-ho, who first caught my attention in "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance", deserves some words of praise. He doesn't only convey the development of his character in a believable way, but is also overwhelming with his willingness to put his body on the line. Even though he might not look like someone who can actually do the stuff he does, he really does all the stunts in the ring himself! This includes drop kicks, back supplex, as well as moonsaults from the top rope! Still, he never loses sight of what's really important. Which is to give a subtle and credible performance, also. This is something you surely don't get to see often.
The rest of the cast isn't bad either, even if some of the individuals seem a bit too stereotypical. But this only adds to the wacky deadpan humor of the movie.

Kim Ji-woon's directing is discreet, but nonetheless competent. The world Kim creates may be a bit dull at times, but this also reflects Dae-ho's inner emptiness, which only slowly gets filled out by his growing self-esteem. It's just unfortunate that many things get a raw deal. It would have been great to see more scenes between Dae-ho and his father. Also, Dae-ho's workplace and his relationship to his colleagues remains in the dark, too. It's the same with him and the daughter of his trainer. There are certain topics that are brought up, but they never really head anywhere. That's rather frustrating for the viewer and leaves us a little bit dissatisfied.

"The Foul King" isn't really for wrestling fans, even though the sport is fabulously worked into the film. The fights actually don't lack a certain amount of dynamic pacing and they also feature some impressive scenes, including a few slow-mo sequences, but there is nothing the interested wrestling fan didn't see before, already. Even the more, as nowadays the business is all about show and looks much more spectacular than back in the 90s. In the movie they never can rise above a good amateur-look. Which in no way is supposed to mean that the actors' efforts are reduced by it!

In the end, "The Foul King" doesn't deliver anything new, as the premise of a loser, who transfers his newly found self-esteem, which he found through his success in some kind of sport, to his everyday life, is all too familiar. What the director deserves credit for is the sincerity and the way the theme is approached. Director Kim has his own special style and his black humor adds a new layer to the movie. Because of some unconventional characters it's easy to forgive the director that there are lots of things he merely deals with on a side note and doesn't bring to a satisfying end. However, fans of "The Quiet Family" will definitely get their money's worth.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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