Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Fake: Faith and Fraud in Provincial Korea

Pastor Sung is sort of a Korean Elmer Gantry, except he is the closest thing to a good guy in this dark animated examination of human nature.  He had the profound misfortune to become entangled with a ruthless con artist, but the man out to expose them is the worst of the lot in Yeon Sang-ho’s The Fake (trailer here), which just started a week-long Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles.

The best part of absentee father Min-chul has been his absence.  Physically and emotionally abusive, his homecoming is far from a happy event for his meek wife and daughter, the long suffering Young-sun.  Plundering Young-sun’s college savings for gambling money, Min-chul inadvertently drives her into the arms of the local faith-healing church—the very sort of outfit he most despises.

Devastated by a prior scandal, the gentle Pastor Sung has fallen for the false promises of “Elder” Choi, a wanted con man.  Through drunken happenstance (and a night in lock-up), Min-chul learns the truth about Choi, but nobody will listen to the obnoxious cretin.  A savage war commences between Min-chul and Choi’s henchmen, while the shadowy crook pressures Pastor Sung to finish fleecing his flock.

Fake is nothing like what you probably expect, beyond its pitch black portrayal of human nature.  Its depiction of blind faith might be unflattering, but nothing is more miserable than the abject lack of a higher meaning in one’s life.  Min-chul is not an anti-hero.  He is a vile brute driven by rage and contempt for his fellow man—and he is unquestionably the face of atheism throughout the film.  In a variation on Chesterton, Min-chul suggests those who believe in nothing, hate everything.

With its acrid irony and complete lack sentimentality, Fake is not likely to be embraced by Christian audiences. Yet, it is a deeply moral film.  It is also unremittingly pessimistic, perhaps setting the world’s record for the most grimly naturalistic animated feature ever.  Frankly, Yeon’s figures are not very expressive, perhaps showing slightly less definition than those in his feature debut, The King of Pigs. However, his characters very definitely have something to say.  Set in a provincial small town scheduled to be demolished for the sake of a massive public works project, the film also has a distinctive, vaguely apocalyptic vibe that is hard to shake.

Parents should note, Fake is completely inappropriate for children.  In addition to its very complex themes, there is considerable violence, harsh language, and all kinds of inhumanity directed at man and beast alike. However, the mature audiences for whom it is intended should find it a visceral, but surprisingly thoughtful film.  Highly recommended for those who appreciate challenging adult animation (and Academy members), The Fake is now showing at the CGV Cinemas in Los Angeles.