THE FOUL KING (2000)
A much-maligned and failing banker finds meaning in the wrestling ring in this smartly shot comedy with plenty of heart
The dynamic connection of Director Kim and Song Kang-ho may have ignited in the filmmaker’s clever debut The Quiet Family (1998), but it takes a slapstick turn for the better in this rough diamond of a wrestling comedy.
Kim would go on to establish himself as one of Korea’s finest modern directors and his ability shines here in what can be termed an auteur comedy for the range of shots he musters. There are some glorious sweeping shots through the backstage changing rooms and hallway that befit an awards season buzz crime masterpiece. In other places, the film is more uneven, yet is congenial enough not to matter.
Holding all this together is the perfectly cast Song Kang-ho, an actor so eminently likable you feel like adding him to your will after every performance.
While Song has established himself as one of Korea's finest modern actors, with plenty of star comedy turns, this is a particularly physical performance from him, allowing those slapstick elements to be genuinely funny.
The story is simple and well-trodden, its unique feel comes from the stylish direction and strong performances instead.
Im Dae-ho (Song Kang-ho) is a struggling banker, rarely making work on time and creating no waves when he finally gets there. Attacked, both physically and mentally by his boss (Song Young-chang), he receives only barks of disappointment from his father at home (Shin Goo).
A childhood wrestling fan, Dae-ho bugs an old pro wrestler (Jang Hang-sun) to teach him to fight, eventually carving out a new identity as ‘The Foul King’, a cheating wrestling who might just get a shot at the big time.
Three years later Director Kim would make A Tale of Two Sisters – arguably his masterpiece – a subversive and surprising horror. Such intricate narrative twists are not found here, but there are enough laughs and physical comedy to keep a rather predicable path littered with memorable moments. Neither is there any of the nerve shredding of Kim’s revenge thriller I Saw The Devil (2010), as The Foul King is a relaxed breeze of harmless comedy capers, even when some of the comedy tinges darker.
The final big fight does a spectacular job of showcasing the athleticism of professional wrestling and provides a suitably big pitch conclusion to the film. If the slapstick was maintained, the film could have lost any serious edges to its make-up, but there are genuine wrestling chops on display here.
There is something unpolished about the film’s overall narrative arch and pacing, especially as it drags its heels in its middle act, but you are placed in a suitability sunny mood from the quirky opening and action-packed finale to let that slid.
Song further establishes him as Korea’s drama-comedy blend supremo while The Foul King forms part of a Director Kim filmography where he can flick from horrors and thrillers to westerns and comedies, losing none of his filmmaking impact in the process.