The Foul King by Kim Ji-Woon (Review)
Dae-Ho is your completely average middle-class working man. He hates his job, his boss is a complete prick who enjoys putting his employees in headlocks, the ladies ignore him, and his dad thinks he’s a failure. That all changes when Dae-Ho begins a secret life as a pro wrestler, donning the mantle of the legendary Foul King and becoming the most notorious rassler in all of Korea. In the ring, he finds his true calling, as well as people who begin to accept him for who he is. Unfortunately, The Foul King is just never as enjoyable as it could be.
There are certainly moments that had me rolling on the floor (such as when Dae-Ho begins wearing the Foul King’s mask in public). But there’s plenty of padding, usually involving Dae-Ho bumbling in front of his co-workers (including the gal he has a crush on) or as he tries to learn the ropes.
The film gets a much-needed boost of energy in the final 25 minutes or so when the Foul King heads into the ring for his greatest fight. Director Kim Ji-Woon (who also wrote the movie) takes a page out of Guy Ritchie’s playbook, using wild camerawork and filming to achieve the same effect as Snatch’s boxing scenes. It soon escalates into an all-out brawl, as the Foul King and his opponent take it outside of the ring for a real free-for-all that starts off hilarious and becomes a tab uncomfortable to watch.
Still, there are long stretches where the film just seems to be running on fumes. You wonder how long it’s going to be before Dae-Ho finally starts acting on all of this inner strength his wrestling alter ego supposedly gives him. How long will it be before he starts to live up the Foul King’s legend? How long will it be before he gives up on his snooty co-worker and hooks up with his coach’s hot daughter?
Finally, there’s the social commentary. The film takes what should be some subtle jabs at modern society and its tendency to marginalize those who don’t fit in and gets a bit pedantic with them. After hearing Dae Ho’s boss rant on and on about his uselessness, I was ready to get in line to pop the guy one.
All in all, The Foul King will probably frustrate most viewers, but they will find some comedic treasure amidst the flotsam and jetsam. They’ll just have to be real patient.
One caveat, however. The version I watched didn’t contain the original Korean soundtrack. Rather it came with Cantonese (starring Steven Chow) and Mandarin soundtracks. I’m not sure how much this affected my impression, but it has in the past (Bichunmoo being a shining example). I’d be interested in watching this with the original Korean soundtrack, if only to see if some of the comedy just didn’t carry over. However, with a film like The Foul King, which is largely physical comedy to begin with, I’m willing to wager I didn’t miss too terribly much.