Film & DVD Review
Dao Ho is a timid bank clerk. No matter how hard he tries he always seems to land in trouble with his bullying boss. In order to find a means of escaping the boss's headlocks he takes up pro-wrestling without telling his father. In the course of his training he starts to enjoy himseld in the ring and soon becomes a regular at the gym. When the local thugs begin fixing matches, the coach creates the "Foul King" persona for Dao Ha, a masked cheat scripted to throw matches. But Dao Ha notches up some early victories and wants to ditch his "dirty tricks" to learn the moves that will make him a real wrestler.
The Foul King has been a box-office smash in Korean, drawing high critical praise and mobs of enthusiastic viewers. Stephen Chow provides the voice for the main character in the Cantonese dub.
With Kim Ji-Wun's A Tale Of Two Sisters being one of my favourite films around just now, and me being moderately impressed by The Quiet Family, I had some excited anticipation prior to watching The Foul King. A Tale Of Two Sisters immediately put him among my favourite directors, and I wasn't wanting to see a film that would remove him from that pedestal. Alas, The Foul King wasn't a film that reinforced this position.
The main story is about Dae-Ho (Song Kang-Ho), a quite timid bank clerk with a passion for wrestling. Upon finding a gym that is advertising for new wrestlers, he makes enquiries only to be knocked back. However the gym owner's circumstances change and he suddenly has a role that he believes Dae-Ho could fill, a wrestler who does nothing but cheat, and so The Foul King is born.
First off, kudos has to be given to Song Kang-Ho for his role as he basically did all of his own stunts. In general that is nothing special, but you see him pull off a lot of different wrestling moves - body slams, throws, grapples etc. - and also do some more gymnastic moves, like back somersaults off the ropes. Just from the way he does them you can see that he must have worked very hard to be able to do them as well as he does on screen, and with the risk of injury this is something that not a lot of actors would be willing to do. So respect the man that is Song Kang-Ho!
Anyway, onto the film: The Foul King is a little bit of a disjointed film, as while the main story is about Dae-Ho and his path to becoming a wrestler, there are other plot threads that are touched on but then pretty much ignored. There is a sub-plot about office corruption, but you only really see a little of the effect that any of it has, and there is very little explanation into the actions of the manager and the people he is helping out. There is also the love interest story. It is played on early in the film, and then comes to light again later, but there isn't anything to it. There is no background information to their prior interactions, no explanation of why Dae-Ho started feeling the way he does for the woman and also no real to conclusion to their story. For the viewer's point of view, I found this to be quite infuriating, as I just couldn't understand why those segments were either in the film in the first place or why they were not expanded on. Had they been expanded on, the film would have had a few more layers to it, and unquestionably would also have been a better film.
The main story didn't have enough in it to carry the film on its own. Granted there are plenty of bits that had me in stitches laughing, particularly The Foul King's first wrestling match, but the rest of the time there just wasn't enough feeling towards the characters to make me care as much as I should. The film tries to add more depth to its story by showing how the character of The Foul King starts to come though more in Dae-Ho's normal life, as he becomes more confident and starts to stand up for himself more, but to me it seemed just too typical and clichéd.
Despite these criticisms there is an enjoyable film here. The laugh out loud moments are concentrated in scenes that are admittedly few and far between, but when the laughs come, they are hilarious. I did feel like I was going to (figuratively) wet myself at times, and with these laughs coming in what is essentially a drama film, the contrast made the scenes stand out all the more. But this contrast also serves to slow the film's tempo as it had me in anticipation for the next comic outburst, but unfortunately the slower drama orientated scenes made it bordering bored anticipation.
The Foul King at heart is really just another story about a man finding himself somewhere in his bored life. There are many entertaining moments, but for each of those there are also moments that will leave you indifferent. There is certainly nothing on par here with A Tale Of Two Sisters, indicating to me that Kim Ji-Wun's skills as a writer and director have taken leaps and bounds since the time he made both The Foul King and The Quiet Family.
Audio & Subtitles
Despite containing a Korean DTS track, it quickly became clear that The Foul King was not a film that would stretch the use of the speakers. The reason for this statement is that most of the audio is concentrated to the front centre, with little use of the surrounds. All the sound effects and speech are perfectly audible with good volume balance, but what surprised me was that there are some words bleeped out! Yes that is right, audio censoring! I can only imagine what the words must have been, as, if I recall correctly, there was plenty of swearing in the subtitles on other occasions!
With no need to go into great length, basically the subtitles were flawless - perfect spelling and grammar throughout.
The film disappointingly comes with only a letterboxed transfer that has speckles over it here and there for the duration of the film. Detail levels are only ok, and in some scenes there was definite signs of colour bleeding. Colours themselves looked quite vibrant, and grain levels were generally low. Not a great transfer on the whole.
DVD & Extras
For extras there are the regular sort of fare. First up are the Cast and Director info pages. These are in both Chinese and English, and cover Song Kang-Ho, Jang Ji-Young and Kim Ji-Wun. Next up are two trailers, one the Korean version and the other the Cantonese version, then there is an extra entitled Korean MTV. This one is a song with bits of the film playing as the video for it. I'm not sure what the song is unfortunately. Lastly there is the photo gallery, something that I personally have no interest in on any film.
On the evidence of The Foul King, for me it is clear that Kim Ji-Wun has gotten better and more competent in his job as his career has progressed. He has shown here a film that certainly has its moments, but also a film that seemingly forgot about sub-stories that it started. The laughs are the film's high point and it's real selling point, but these are too few and far between. That being said they do raise the film to be a little above average, but no more.
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