Sometimes you know that a film cannot fail. Three things – the ever brilliant Kim Ji-woon behind the lens, the always watchable Song Kang-ho in his first true starring role and Wrestling. Actually, I am no fan of wrestling per se, but I have always had a fascination with the masked wrestlers – it will be that super-hero idea.
Now, lets be honest here – this is not your normal Sports Film. Kim Ji-woon starts here his routine of taking a genre, and placing his own spin on it. “The Foul King” tells the story of Dae-ho (Song Kang-ho), a somewhat downtrodden bank clerk. He still lives with his Father, has a crush on a girl in his office, is losing his only friend and his boss hates him. In fact his boss literally physically abuses him. Reminded by an old love of wrestling, he starts a new secret life as a cheating, masked wrestler.
Now lets get it out of the way. This is not athletic wrestling. This is a show, with storylines and predetermined outcomes. Is there athletic prowess on show? Of course. But it is all a carefully choreographed act. To be honest, I had a big piece planned here about how I used to enjoy wrestling as a kid, when it was shown on the commercial channel here in the UK every Saturday afternoon. But the thing is – this isn’t really a film about wrestling.
Song Kang-ho is of course brilliant. This was his first starring role (beating the HUGE JSA by a few months), and he delivers with the presence we expect of him every time now. This is a guy who can act, and does not rely on any pretty boy looks.
With hindsight, you can see this is a classic Kim film. He takes a genre format, and tweaks it and reinterprets it slightly. Yes this is a film about wrestling, but really it is about a man who uses it to gain confidence in his life. You watch him grow in confidence as the film progresses, sometimes while hidden behind his mask (in one of the standout sequences), but also more generally.
But it never falls into genre conventions. There is no great sporting triumph as the end. He does not get the girl. Indeed, the end sequence suggests that many things have not changed.
It is a good film. Certainly not one of Kim’s finest, but still head and shoulders over most movies you will see. It has some issues with pacing, and frankly it never quite delivers the punch lines in some of the humorous moments.