'The Fake' (Saibi): Fantasia Review

Courtesy of Fantasia Festival
A sober-minded tale driven by a singularly ugly character

Adult-geared animation takes on religious hucksterism

One of the most adult-oriented animated films in recent memory, Sang-ho Yeon's The Fake revolves around guilt and justice in a community being hustled by a sham religious organization. The South Korean import may confuse audiences, who will wonder why this naturalistically drawn, realist story is animated instead of shot with live actors. But Yeon's vision is clearly dramatized and his execution strong; though it may have trouble finding its commercial niche, the film is powerful on its terms.

In a village whose residents are being forced from their homes to make way for dam construction, a group is raising money to build a prayer center large enough for them to live in. What the group's earnest pastor doesn't realize is that his boss Choi, in charge of fundraising, is a convicted con man who is planning to run as soon as he's fleeced the congregation.

The one person who knows what's going on, having seen Choi's mug shot on a most-wanted poster, is a vicious drunk named Min-chul. Nasty to the core and given to filthy rants, he has swept back into town just in time to gamble away his daughter's college savings. But when his natural meanness coincides with righteous indignation at the crime being committed, Min-chul becomes a man possessed, railing at policemen who dismiss his accusations as a lunatic's fantasy.

As this small-town melodrama grows darker, its themes of blind faith, community and shame get more sober treatment than in many ostensibly serious live-action films. While the nicely hued animation is undistinguished in technical terms, in combination with the voice talent of Ik-Joon Yang it produces a genuinely gripping performance for Min-chul, an antihero worthy of a Southern Gothic novel. Having generated buzz with his first feature, The King of Pigs, Yeon is carving out a niche in the animation arena for serious, nongenre work that relies not on quirk and stylistic flourishes but on character and storytelling.

Production company: Finecut Co., Ltd
Cast: Yang Ik-june, Oh Jung-se, Kwon Hae-hyo, Park Hee-bon
Director-Screenwriter: Sang-ho Yeon
Producer: Young-kag cho
Music: Yeong-gyu Jang
No rating, 100 minutes