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The Day a Pig Fell Into a Well

Park Jin-Song (left) randomly encounters Kim Eui-Sung in The Day a Pig Fell into a Well.
  Korean: 돼지가 우물에 빠진날
Year: 1996  
Director: Hong Sang-Soo  
Writer: Hong Sang-Soo, Seo Sin-Hye  
  Cast: Kim Eui-Sung, Jo Eun-Suk, Lee Eung-Kyung, Park Jin-Song, Bong Eun-Hee, Song Kang-Ho
  The Skinny: A dark, grim, but brilliant arthouse drama that explores the everlasting search for intimacy in the wrong places. With four separate interconnected episodes, this is a film that rewards its audience for their patience. The directorial debut of Korean auteur Hong Sang-Soo.
Kevin Ma:

Hong Sang-Soo is one of contemporary Korean cinema's premier auteurs. Through unobtrusive storytelling and an episodic narrative, his debut film The Day a Pig Fell into a Well garnered him critical acclaim around the world. A film about emotional disconnection and intimacy, Pig presents four characters in separate but intertwined narratives. First, writer Hyo-Sub (Kim Eui-Sung) is struggling to finish his novel and juggle two relationships - one with young Jae-Min (Jo Eun-Suk), and the other with married woman Po-Kyung (Lee Eung-Kyung). However, his aggression eventually explodes due to his frustrations, ultimately alienating his friends.

Next, we follow Dong-Woo (Park Jin-Song), a businessman who goes out of town for a meeting that never comes to fruition. Instead, he tries to fill his loneliness through physical intimacy. Finally, we then learn more about Jae-Min, who works several odd jobs, including making personalized wake-up calls and working at the ticket window of a movie theater. She is head over heels for Hyo-Sob, even though he treats her like dirt. On the other hand, Hyo-Sob claims to be in love with Po-Kyung, and she is even prepared to elope with him. However, after being stood up by Hyo-Sub, Po-Kyung begins to wander around the city, examining the lack of direction in her life.

The four narratives play out in separate sections of the film, and patience is required as their connections slowly unfold. Those who have no prior knowledge of Hong's structure may grow frustrated with Pig's slow pace and low-key storytelling, but those who can sit through it will find a dark tale that is as powerful as it is emotionally muted. Hong is never a particularly crowd-pleasing director, as Pig is sexually explicit (though not in a titillating fashion), grim, at times violent, and almost never clear about its characters. They are introduced and abandoned, only to be brought back into the story later, which can confuse audiences when the characters haven't even been properly introduced. This is a film that either requires multiple viewings or constant note taking just to keep track of how everything comes together.

Hong makes things even harder by presenting four very flawed characters. Hyo-Sob is a selfish man who simply uses those who love him; Dong-Woo looks for love in the wrong places; Jae-Min is not a very good judge of character; and Po-Kyung cannot move on from her grief, simply shutting herself off from her husband. While these flaws make all of these characters seem pathetic, they also make the characters real. All four of these characters have some redeemable quality about them, but their flaws place them in their respective situations. They are pathetic because they cannot save themselves from their personal crises, and Hong wisely chooses to view these characters in a fashion that eschews emotions for objectivity. In the end, their very credible flaws allow us to connect with them, and Hong's style doesn't simply judge them for us. We become spectators of their lives as we follow them through their day, and hence, we are forced to form our own opinions and evaluate for ourselves who these people are. In that sense, Pig becomes engaging for those willing to take the time to examine the film's characters during its duration.

On the other hand, Pig, like many other films that take a similar stylistic approach, suffers from a lack of any real plot. Hong simply spends the entire movie developing characters rather than a plot, as the film is really connected by character moments that make up some vague chronicle of these lives. Hong's structure of the separate narratives is, for the lack of a better word, brilliant. The way he weaves them together shows that despite any uncertainty one might feel, Hong is confidently steering the ship in the right direction. So then why does Hong choose to give a clear resolution to only two of his characters, while leaving the fate of the other two unclear? In fact, the two characters that received a clear resolution happen to be the least developed ones. We know who they are and what roles they play in the narrative, but their backgrounds are rarely explored. Hong also provides more than a few seemingly throwaway shots that add quite a bit to the other two characters, but he cheats the audience by never showing us what happens to them. It seems like an intentional decision, but it also shows that Hong might not be sure where he wanted to take the film beyond what we see onscreen. Nevertheless, The Day a Pig Fell into a Well is more than just a film worth watching - it's a piece of cinematic art that deserves exploration, even if it's a bit grim for general audiences. (Kevin Ma 2007)

Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 0 NTSC
Dong A Exports
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital Mono
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen