Taking a realistically adult approach to bullying, this animated teen thriller from Korea is packed with provocative and sometimes moving observations even when it turns overly melodramatic at the end. It's a clever mixture of simple animation and darkly complex storytelling, with characters we can identify with in their frustration at the injustice around them. It's also remarkably grim and violent for a cartoon.
The story starts in the present day, as Kyung-min (Oh) is struggling to cope with the violent brutal death of his wife. Then he he gets information about how to reconnect with his childhood friend Jong-suk (Yang), now a failed writer who takes out his frustration by beating his wife. When the two men meet up after all these years, they reminisce about their time in middle school. As boys (voiced by Kim Khobbi and Park), they were "pigs", brutally attacked by the school bullies. And they begin to think of their troubled friend Chul (Kim Hye-na), who tried to teach them that the only way to survive was to fight back against the "dogs".
Clearly this film's primary audience is teens who are technically to young to watch it, as the strong themes, violence and language put it clearly in the 15-certificate category. More worrying is the attitude of vengeance, as Chul encourages violent reprisals that get extremely grisly. But then this is a Lord of the Flies kind of story in which teen boys must fight each other for power in the absence of adults. Parents and teachers only barely appear in the film, which adds to the perilous atmosphere of each scene.
Filmmaker Yeon uses artful but uncomplicated animation that's drawn in a cinematic style, with eye-catching camera movements and telling details about the characters and situations. As the story develops both in the past and the present, it finds surprising resonance. Most intriguing is the idea that the adult men wish they still had someone like Chul to stand up for them as their lives haven't gone as they hoped. And even if it gets rather overwrought in the end, the film's disturbing themes linger in the mind.