Despite the misleading pictures of Pokemon that have accompanied around half of my WTF ASIA blog posts, only around four of the 105 movies that I have talked about had any significant elements of animation to them outside of maybe some bad CGI. Well, for those of you who were wondering if I would discuss some actual Japanese Anime, I present The Fake…from South Korea.
Availableâ€¦on the internet.
The movie begins with a dog. What a cute little dog. A young pastor named Sung pets the dog until Elder Choi tells him that it is time to meet the new flock. As Elder Choi leads Pastor Sung into a building, one of Choiâ€™s underlings goes over to the dog and hits it on the head with a hammer. Yupâ€¦it is probably going to be dinner for someone later.
You still here? Okay. Some backstory may be in order. Sung and Choi have arrived at a town that is in the floodzone of an upcoming dam project. The townsfolk have been given compensation money, but most of them seem terrified of moving. Choi has promised to build them a prayerhouse and has been touting Sung as a miracle worker. Sung himself is a little nervous, though. And when he looks upon the distressed townsfolk who greet him, he seems to wonder if he is in over his head.
Meanwhile, Min-chul has returned to the town after spending monthsâ€¦away. He doesnâ€™t spend too much time there before he takes both the compensation money and the money that his daughter had saved up for college so that he can go gambling in the city. Min-chul subsequently loses at gambling, but assaults another player instead of giving up the money. He then goes to a bar where he is extremely loud and obnoxious.
It just so happens that the only other main customers there are Elder Choi and what appear to be a trio of actors. Choi is explaining to the actors that they have to pretend to be a rich family and that he has rented out a car for them. Choi then goes to the bathroom, briefly locking eyes with Min-chul. Min-chul insults him and Choi scoffs at him. This enrages Min-chul, who follows Choi to the bathroom with the intent to start a fight. Inside the bathroom, Choi tries to talk down Min-chul until he grabs hold of a loose brick and hits Min-chul right in the head. Claiming that Min-chul passed out, Choi leaves with the actors. Min-chul runs after them as they start to drive off, throwing a bottle at the car and busting one of the tail lights. Choi gets out of the car to confront Min-chul, but gets back in and drives off as the police arrive. Min-chul yells at the police to follow the car, but they arrest him instead.
At the station, the bar owner states that Min-chul was ruining her business, making wildly exaggerated claims. Meanwhile, Min-chul is insulting her at every chance he can get and going on about the man who hit him with the brick. He then notices that the man is featured on a list of mugshots. It turns out that the man who hit him is wanted for fraud. He yells at the police about this and the bar owner comes over to look. But Min-chul continues to insult her so badly that she refuses to help him out, denies that the man in the picture was the same man at the bar, and tells the police to lock up Min-chul. So, Min-chul is forced to stay at the station overnight.
Min-chul then returns home again to find a less than welcoming family. His wife is fearfully submissive as always, but his daughter Young-sun seems to be more concerned about her missing money. Min-chul completely ignores her polite questioning. Then she starts yelling at him, so he then smacks her and pulls her hair, accusing her of trying to use that money to escape. He then goes to meet Chil-sung and some other friends to recruit them on his search to find the guy who hit them. They say that they have to go attend some new church. Not believing this, he goes walking back to the city.
Unsuccessful in insulting the bar owner into helping him search for his assailant, Min-chul walks back to town. The car with the busted tail light passes him and he runs after it. He finds it parked at the building that Choi and Sung have been using as a church. He goes in to see his fellow townsfolk witnessing Sung perform a miracle that has allowed an old man in a wheelchair to walk again. Recognizing the old man and his family from the bar, Min-chul says that this whole thing is a sham. He also notices Choi and goes after him, before Young-sun stops him. Min-chul starts to hit her until Sung intervenes and tells Min-chul to hit him insteadâ€¦which he does.
Eventually, Choi and his underlings drag Min-chul to some secluded part of the building so that they can beat him up a bit. They plan on just dropping him off somewhere until Min-chul reveals that he saw Choiâ€™s picture in a police station. So, they decide to take him to some abandoned building and just tie him up there, maybe to die.
For his part, Sung did not know that the rich family were merely actors. When he confronts Choi about this, Choi insists that it is merely the quickest means of converting people to the faith, which is a good thing. Sung is not all that comfortable about this, but he still goes along with it. And thanks to Min-chulâ€™s little outburst, his wife and daughter are very apologetic to Pastor Sung and double down on their commitment to the church.
During Min-chulâ€™s timeâ€¦away, Choi and Sung start to take over all aspects of town life. Choi even promises Young-sun that he will help her pay for college if she takes a job in the city that will help serve the church. Of course she decides to take it. But Min-chul eventually gets free, and is now even more determined to go after Choi and his gang, with or without the help of the law.
If you somehow managed to get past the paragraph with the dog, you may have realized that this is not a happy movie. It is actually a mixture of angry and very very sad. It is basically about a group of people in a time of desperation who turn towards a man who takes advantage of them, and the only person who recognizes the truth is a horrible human being.
Indeed, the protagonist of this movie is terrible. I suppose that he could be worse; he doesnâ€™t immediately go on a killing spree, after all. Yet at almost no point in the movie does he garner any sympathy. He is not even all that much of an interesting type of bad person; he is just miserable and off-putting. Even his quest to uncover the truth is sheer vindictiveness with a foundation in utter pettiness. Yet, that is the point of the movie. It is not interested in making us understand why Min-chul is how he is or showing his slow reform. It has made the character so abhorrent that the viewer wants as little to do with him as the other characters in the movie do. It is more interesting in contrasting his version of bad with the bad of Choi.
Min-chul may think the worst of everyone while being the worst himself, but at least he is honest. At least honest underneath all of the insults and hatred. Yet, it is because his terrible behavior that people do not want to be on his side. Even Chil-sung, the one person whom Min-chul is almost somewhat concerned for, keeps him at a distance. He is so off-putting that his message gets lost. To many, he just makes a lot of noise and causes a lot of damage. And he has the nerve to be shocked that they want nothing to do with him. He has, apparently, not heard the saying about attracting flies with honey instead of vinegar. The message here is not that the abrasive ones can be the teller of truths, but that the truth told terribly will not be heard.
Choi, on the other hand, is a master at manipulation. He has no plans on building anything for the townsfolk, only to take all of their compensation money and then leave when he has bled them dry. In order to do that, though, he presents himself as a savior. He is handsome and classy, while Min-chul is an ugly wreck. Where Min-chul insults everyone, Choi gives them a reason for hope in difficult times. With water blessed by Pastor Sung, sick townspeople feel better. Even when evidence that he is bad stares people in the face (including some of the looks that Pastor Sung gives him), there is always a way for them to convince themselves that he is on the level. Look at any newspaper or newsfeed right now and you will probably find two or three people who could be considered templates for this guy.
And here is one of the main points of the movie. Almost everyone in the movie would rather believe a pleasant lie than the unpleasant truth. The bar owner refuses to believe that the customer who did not insult her is worse than the one who did. The police are extremely reluctant to help him out. Young-sun, who had considered suicide after confronting her father about the stolen money, desparately wants to believe that there is something beyond this miserable life of hers. Chil-sung needs to believe that the holy water is treating his wifeâ€™s illness. Various ulterior motives come together with communal pressure to bring the townsfolk closer to the church. There are even small moments that involve neither Min-chul nor the frauds. At one point, a boy actually tells his girlfriend to lie to him. At another point, a woman demands to learn the truth about her husbandâ€™s activities and then realizes that getting him to confess did not bring the satisfaction that she had envisioned. Even Min-chul is deluded to an extent; he is right in believing the worst in everyone only because he brings out the worst in them. Is he right about them because he sees the darkness in them? Or could he push the best of humanity to their breaking point?
Soâ€¦that is The Fake. If I have not yet sold you on this movie, let me remind you: it has a dead dog.
WTF ASIA 107: The Lunchbox (India: 2013, approx. 105 minutes)
WTF ASIA 108: Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge (Japan: 2007, approx. 110 minutes)
AsianwikiÂ (no Wikipedia page)