Fantastic Fest Review: The Fake

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The FakeSouth Korean writer/director Sang-ho Yeon created quite a stir at Fantastic Fest in 2012 with the disturbingly bleak animated drama, The King of Pigs. Serious tales conveyed through animation are rare, and Yeon shows no mercy in demonstrating the brutality and exploitative nature within various castes of South Korean society.

Yeon continues to expose the futility and atrocities suffered by the weak and lower class with his second feature-length animated drama Saibi (The Fake). A dying village is scheduled for evacuation before new construction begins and the land is flooded. Many of the villagers look to their church elder, Choi, to save them both figuratively and spiritually, along with the newly recruited Pastor. Unfortunately neither the villagers or Pastor are aware that Choi is a criminal wanted for fraud. He has promised to build a new housing complex for the villagers, when his actual plan is to take off once he's stolen all of their government compensation money.

Meanwhile Young-sun has her own plans to escape the village. After saving her hard-earned money towards her college fund, she receives news of her acceptance in a major university. Before she can pay her tuition, her deadbeat drunkard father Min-chui returns home after an extended absence. He gambles and drinks with the family's compensation as well as her stolen bank funds. When Young-sun confronts him Min-chui becomes enraged and beats her and her mother.

Oddly Min-chui is the only person who has recognized Choi as a con man, but with his own terrible reputation he is unable to even convince the local police. His obsession with exposing Choi becomes fueled by his own family's involvement with the church. When Young-sun disappears to supposedly work for the church, Min-chui tracks her down to the seedy karaoke parlor run by Choi. The destruction set in motion through Choi's actions and Min-chui's anger has an even more profound effect on everyone's lives than the impending flood.

The animation and art design of The Fake presents a stark and often visually stunning contrast of beautiful golden sunsets over the grey dying landscape and decaying buildings. Likewise the musical score sets a maudlin tone while birds are heard singing along a country road.

At times the violence may seem a bit prolonged and overdone, yet it supports the discord created by the powerful and evil characters who facilitate the village's demise.

Yeon's characters evoke an interesting debate on the evils of mankind when considering who is the real "monster" in The Fake. Is it the brutal abusive father Min-chui who has no concern for his family's welfare or happiness, or the exploitative Choi who has convinced the sick and elderly that his holy water will cure better than medication? Or is it the Pastor who suffers from his own moral dilemmas after a tragic event in his past?

When Fantastic Fest programming assistant Luke Mullen introduced The Fake screening, he informed the audience that this was not a "happy movie" and that there was a lot of anger conveyed by Yeon on the screen. Perhaps this warning helped me be better prepared for the bleak despair of the film, but I think that the use of animation helped to soften the blow if only just slightly.

There's definitely no happy ending for anyone in The Fake. Surprisingly I was most moved by Min-chui -- the most unlikeable character of the film -- in the final act, if only to pity him for the blind destruction that he brought upon himself and his family.

I highly recommend seeing The Fake, an emotionally powerful and visually stunning drama unlike other animated films. Watch a trailer below: