Foul King, The (2000) Review

"Foul King" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Foul King" Korean Theatrical Poster

AKA: Foul King
Director: Kim Ji Woon (Kim Ji Wun)
Cast: Song Kang-Ho, Chang Jin-Young, Park Sang-Myun
Running Time: 111 min.

By Equinox21

The Foul King is the story of Im Dae-ho (Song Kang-ho), a pitiful bank teller with an utter lack of self-confidence. Everyone, from his boss to the gang on the street, beats him up. No one gives him any respect, especially his father who just wishes he’d grow up (even though he’s in this 30’s). This all begins to change when he sees an ad saying “Wrestlers Wanted”, and as he’s been a fan of professional wrestling all his life, he decides to learn the trade. In the beginning his primary motivation for learning professional wrestling is because of his quest to find a way out of the dreaded “Head Lock of Horror” that his boss regularly puts him in as punishment for his tardiness.

The coach doesn’t want to waste his time with Dae-ho, until the manager of another professional wrestler wants to set up a match and wants the coach to train a wrestler whose specialty is cheating. After some training, he has his first hilarious match. It’s going well and he’s entertaining his audience until he accidentally uses a real fork (which he mistook for a prop) on his opponent, with rather sanguine results.

Once he really gets into the craft his self-confidence begins to grow. Unfortunately, he can still only talk to the woman he likes or to his father while wearing his wrestling mask. That is until his mask is ripped off in the big match against Yubiho, and he realizes that it’s not the mask that gave him confidence, but himself. It’s at this point (the very end of the movie) that he realizes he has what it takes to stand up to his boss, in a classic “western” showdown. I won’t spoil the results of the showdown, but it is quite in keeping with the mood of the movie.

The movie is a comedy, and it really shines in this respect. The comedy does not rely wholly on spoken jokes (that could either be badly translated or require a knowledge of Korean culture to understand), instead mostly using visual jokes. Thankfully, it doesn’t resort to slapstick, which it easily could have. Song Kang-ho, whose range continues to astound me (from the dramatic Sergeant in J.S.A. to the no-quite charismatic small time leader of a group of wannabe-assassins in No. 3), also pulls off the comedy well thanks to his brilliant acting. Not only does he excel at the comedic acting required for the movie, he also does all the action scenes himself (as can be seen in his training sequences in the “making of” feature on the DVD). He does all the flipping, jumping, and wrestling himself, adding to the impressiveness.

In addition to the great acting is the terrific soundtrack. It is quite an eclectic and funny mix of songs. All fit in perfectly with the feel of the movie. There’s no one style used, it is all over the board.

Overall, it’s a terrific comedy with a great performance by Song Kang-ho. The only reason I can’t give it a 9/10 is because the ending felt a bit unresolved.

Equinox21’s Rating: 8/10

By Len

The best film I’ve ever seen about wrestling. Ok, that doesn’t sound too impressive, considering how I’ve only (luckily) seen two films about wrestling, Foul King, and Unlimited Power (or something like that. It’s the one where Hulk Hogan fights someone called Tiny Tim. Which obviously was horrendous, although it did have it’s share of quality moments.). And I hate wrestling. However, Foul King is also one of the best films I saw last year, and definately amongst the best comedies I’ve seen in a long long time.

The storyline is quite simple. Dae-Ho is a nerdy bank clerk, who’s inability to show up on time to work is only challenged by his total lack of success in the world of social relationships. After being caught in a horrendous headlock by his boss, Dae-Ho decides he needs a change. He’s inspired by wrestling, and starts going to a rundown wrestling gym in order to shape up. However, things don’t really go as well as he planned, and instead of fame, he finds mostly ridicule. I don’t think I’ll be spoiling much if I reveal that he eventually manages to convince the coach to let him wrestle, so he enters the wrestling circuit as the designated trickster, using anything from rubber bands to kitchenware in his fights, in a most illegal (but crowdpleasing) way that quickly earns him fame and glory, as his greatest battle lies ahead.

I honestly can’t see anyone making a better film about a subject as tiresome as wrestling than this lil gem. The main actor (Song Kang-Ho, also starred in the absolutely brilliant “Joint Security Area”) is brilliant, and his potrayal of Dae-Ho, a total loser who’s trying to make his life worth something is almost as hilarious as the guy who plays his macho boss (dunno who he was, but he ruled).

The film looks quite nice too, with extremely cool cinematography, and the fight scenes look glorious (random fact #1: Song Kang-Ho did all of the wrestling scenes himself), alot better than reallife wrestling. Also the comedic parts worked out extremely well (especially the first wrestling fight. It’s something I can’t even explain) and had a certain refreshing charm that made this movie somewhat of a feelgood experience atleast for me. The only bit that I didn’t like all that much was the finale, as it was more like a actual wrestling match unlike the earlier matches in the film (which were at times very funny, with hilariously black comedy), but even it was enjoyable, and was redeemed by the hilarious end scene.

All in all, this is a brilliant film, and certainly worth seeing. Random fact #2: A Foul King showercap (that’s a replica of the mask used by Dae-Ho) is included in the Korean 2-disc special edition DVD of Foul King.

Len’s Rating: 9/10

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