Yeon Sang-ho’s “The Fake” – 2013 Busan Film Review


Korean animation director Yeon Sang-ho’s debut, “The King of Pigs,” was an instant film festival success that focused on the topic of school bullying in South Korea.  The grim story surrounding three friends and their downward spiral catapulted Yeon’s rough sketches into a disturbing territory of destruction usually reserved for live action feature films.

That said, Yeon’s second effort, “The Fake” (사이비), easily surpasses his debut.  More polished than “The King of Pigs” animation- and story-wise, he once again magnifies a similar endless assortment of societal ills through perhaps a more frightening subject: religious cults.

The character central to the story is a drunk abusive husband and father named Min-chul, whose submissive wife constantly clutches a cross and prays, and whose daughter Young-sun cannot attend university in Seoul because her father has recklessly spent all her savings.  Meanwhile, the village where they reside will soon be flooded for a dam construction project.  Sensing an opportunity, in swoops Choi Kyung-suk, a charismatic evangelical Christian senior pastor who, one by one, lures Min-chul’s neighbors into his congregation with the promise of using their offerings to build them a new home of sorts.  Min-chul immediately senses that something is amiss, but his pugilistic ways and expletive-filled speech cannot convince his fellow villagers that Pastor Choi is a fraud.  The only individual who seems to have enough mental clarity to rectify the situation is Choi’s junior pastor, Sung Chul-woo, but is he able to truly save everyone’s souls?

While violence is inevitable when it comes to child bullying, it is not as obvious when blind faith slowly takes over one’s ability to think, judge and rationalize.  In that sense, this is what makes “The Fake” a more psychologically terrifying work than “The King of Pigs.”  When one villager passes away, the collective reaction is not one of grief but rather, hysteria.  As one supposed mourner puts it, “Spots in heaven are limited,” confirming that the strategy of continuous prayer, endless devotion to the pulpit and going nearly bankrupt to buy a limited-edition slot out of hell becomes the priority, at all costs.  It’s a scenario that is closer to reality than not, and Yeon pulls no punches in boldly portraying the evils of religious fanaticism that already exist in society today.