When I was about nine or ten years old I thought wrestling was pretty cool. It was the age of the Road Warriors, George the Animal Steele, Andre the Giant. The days when there was still a strange air of secrecy for the kids, retards, and simpletons about whether or not it was real or fake. I even went to a stadium match once, almost bought a Mexican wrestling mask there, heard profanities screamed for the first time, and witnesses a "Texas Pole" match (two poles on opposite sides of the ring had whips atop them which the wrestlers dramatically fought to climb). At the time it was a great deal of fun, that is, until about a month later when the complete fakeness of wrestling finally dawned on me and it became two bad beefy actors sweating and slapping each other in matches where the outcome was painstakingly pre-arranged.
The opening shot of The Foul King (2000) is a blurry tv screen playing images of wrestlers in combat while a very sweet piano tune plays. The purpose seems to be infusing the film with an air of nostalgia, those times in childhood when suspension of disbelief, imagination, naiveté, whatever, make one open to the exploits of old school TV wrestling... Naturally, its just too good to be true and as soon as the movie starts the nostalgia is largely thrown out in favor of uneven, original, and strange, Asian comedy.
Dae-ho works a thankless job as a loan officer at a bank. His job is all the more thankless due to his tardiness, which he is punished for in the form of headlocks and berating from his mean boss. Dae-ho's home life isn't good either, whether it be crushes on co-workers who don't notice him, being bullied by local teen punks, or having his father chide him for being a lazy, ambitionless twit. In the hope of finding a way to break his bosses headlocks, he visits a Tae Kwan Do teacher, who is of little help and curiously is wearing a neckbrace. After being suspended for the day because he showed up late again, he wanders into a run down gym advertising "WRESTLERS NEEDED. FREE UNIFORMS. COMBAT TECHNIQUIES FOR DAILY LIVING!" But, even there, the gym manager turns him down, commenting that his smaller, soft physique and goofy nature are no good for wrestling. Eventually, Dae-ho gets his break when a fight promoter makes an offer to the gym manager. It seems one of the big stars in Korean wrestling, Yubiho, needs one big match before he breaks into the Japanese leagues, so the fight promoter needs a new, dirty fighter, to fight in a pre-scripted match and make Yubiho look good. So, they start training the clueless Dae-ho (so clueless he thinks a crotch protector/cup is a facemask) the art of wrestling, or at the very least, cheating, since he will become the Foul King, a villainous wrestler who breaks the rules by employing forks, blinding powder, and such.
Foul King was a huge hit in Korea, one of the big box office films the year it was released. I wasn't really too impressed with its simpleton makes good story. Its the kind of one-dimensional role a Splash or Big era Tom Hanks would be cast in, though its semi-brutality makes it less aggresively cute than a US crowd pleaser comedy. Its certainly a subject that has been done to death before, a picked on loser trying to make good, find that one talent he hasn't discovered yet. After training, Dae-ho wears the mask as he confronts the bully punks and when he professes his crush on a co-worker, all illustrating how he finds himself, his confidence, through wrestling. In fact, as much of a dolt Dae-ho may be, like he may accidentally stab his wrestling buddy with a real fork instead of a fake one in his first match, Dae-ho does prove himself adept at wrestling. That's where the struggle to take a fall comes into play. Which is odd because the film, on one hand, emphasizes that all the matches are pre-choreographed and then seems to ignore this fact when it comes to Dae-ho fighting Yubiho, acting like its a big deal to take a fall. It is like the film doesn't know if wrestling is supposed to be legit of not. Likewise, the film has heart but it has its fare share with narrative holes and uneven storytelling; for instance, Dae-ho's overnight success by becoming a known wrestler after only one small match in which he wears a different costume. It has some charming moments, but I've never been a huge fan of the likable retard. Lead actor Song Kang-Ho should be highly commended for his stunts, and the big finale is a 10+ minute long match that is highly entertaining.
The DVD: Tai Seng
Picture- Widescreen, but is completely the wrong ratio. Characters are constantly popping out of frame during conversations and in general throughout the film. The print is horrible. You wouldn't believe this was a recent film by the quality of this extremely grainy, washed out, dull color, lackluster contrast print.
Sound- Fair enough Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 or Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 (featuring the voice of HK comedy superstar Stephen Chow) with optional yellow English subtitles. What gives? A Korean film, but no Korean language soundtrack? This is a pretty big deterrent to Asian cinema fans since I know Korean DVD editions have readily available 5.1 and DTS original language soundtracks, and its a real puzzler why one wasn't included on the DVD.
Extras- 6 Chapters--- Trailers for Fist of Fury, Kung Fu Master, Assassin and The Duel.
Conclusion: I found the film to be moderately interesting but that doesn't really matter. What matters is the DVD itself is pretty poor- not the correct ratio, rough looking, not the original language, and is bare of any real extras. Worth maybe a rental at best. Certainly not worth a $25 price tag.