The Foul King (2000)

Director: Kim Jee-woon

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Song Kang-ho, Jang Jin-young, Park Sang-myeon, Jung Woong-in, Song Young-chang, Jang Hang-seon

The second feature from director Kim Jee-woon, The Foul King opens with video footage of a wrestling match being watched on a TV set. This visual harkens back to a simpler moment of life, when real-world issues fade away as viewers' attention focuses on a televisual escape from reality. The film then cuts to an unappealing part of real life; the commute to work. An overcrowded train prevents meek bank clerk Im Dae-ho (Song Kang-ho) from exiting, which makes him late for work and subsequently humiliated by his bullying boss.

Fed up with this regular berating, Dae-ho sees an opportunity to prove that he is not weak when he sees an advert for professional wrestlers. After working up the courage to enquire, the bank clerk soon transforms himself into a cheating wrestling villain known as The Foul King. In the lead role, Song Kang-ho fantastically captures the multiple sides of this sad sack who is looking for a change in life. Whether he is the incompetent worker who desires power, or the charismatic figure in the ring channelling his cheating idol, it is a fantastic performance which delivers a grin-inducing goofiness.

From a young age, what drew Dae-ho to become a wrestling fan were the characters and their vibrant personalities. Once he has the opportunity to bring such a character to life, he is determined to do right by the role and approaches it with a newfound enthusiasm. As he discovers the mask that was once worn by his wrestling hero, the object becomes a metaphorical crutch for him to become confident and stand-up for himself. The journey is a familiar one to discovering the strength was inside him all along, yet that does not take away from how engaging it all is.

Jee-woon brings alive the wrestling in fantastic ways, particularly with an effective use of slow-motion, yet what truly sets these scenes apart is the tone. A combination of brilliant comedic timing and pitch-perfect physical comedy brings these scenes alive, making for a riotous concoction on-screen. This is magnificently on show with Dae-ho's match, which becomes a ticking time bomb of incompetence as viewers wait for it to all go wrong.

Also included within the feature is a bank-centred subplot, where a client wants a loan approved for potentially underhanded reasons. This leads to a fracturing relationship between Dae-ho and his work friend, although it is a subplot that could have been trimmed out considering how ignored it often feels throughout. It just leaves one wishing to return to the main plot, particularly when the big final match is an electrifying set-piece which descends into utter chaos. It is a fine climax to The Foul King, an entertaining journey of self-confidence through professional wrestling that is finally available for the first time in the UK and Ireland.  

The Foul King is available now on digital platforms