The Foul King is supposed to be a comedy, but I only laughed once, about an hour in. It’s not about South Korea’s leading stand-up comedian (which I thought it was). It’s about a wrestler who cheats (and gets fouls for that cheating). The film’s structured not around a traditional sports movie, instead it’s about a bank teller who finds himself in the wrestling ring. Except we don’t really know he finds himself, because the film’s storytelling is so distant, it’s hard to care about him.
The first hour of the film is spent abusing the narrator–he’s got a boss who beats him, he gets beat up by thugs, his father can’t stand him, his only friend avoids him, he’s no good at his job–all the time building toward his wrestling success. The wrestling success may or may not get there in the end, it’s not clear. From what I can tell, the audience is supposed to be laughing, not particularly caring about the characters or the film’s content. Song Kang-ho is a big Korean star, but his performance is adequate at best. There are no good or bad performances in Foul King, actually. The film doesn’t care about having good or bad performances, it cares about surveying its “story.” If it weren’t for the measured film editing–shots last twenty seconds or so–Foul King would run about thirty-five minutes. There’s an entire subplot involving the boss trying to corrupt the friend, which may or may not be an attempt at juxtaposition, but it’s so poorly handled–it’s a strain to figure out what’s going on–it fails miserably.
I just realized I’ve never seen Song in a good film, in fact, he’s in about thirty percent of the bad Korean films I’ve seen. I wonder if there’s a connection. At least the final wrestling match moves, as the rest of the film doesn’t.
Written and directed by Kim Ji-woon; director of photography, Hong Kyung-pyo; edited by Goh Im-pyo; music by UhUhBoo Project; produced by Oh Jung-wan and Lee Mi-yeon; released by bom Film.
Starring Song Kang-ho (Dae-ho), Jang Jin-young (Jang Min-young), Kim Su-ro (Yu Bee-ho) and Shin Goo (Dae-ho’s father).