TIFF Review: The Fake (사이비)

Sorry, no poster available for The Fake
Sorry, no poster available for The Fake

Okay, you may have noticed if you’ve read any of my articles that I’m a pretty positive person. Oh, I love a good rant as much as the next person but I like being happy way more and that shows in my writing. Reviews are no different. I love writing happy reviews when I can gush about how much I love, love, love the music, film, product, etc. Yeah, it’s also fun to write the couple of reviews where I completely bashed (okay, not really bashed as even then I try to offer constructive criticism) the product, event, etc.

This, however, is not one of those reviews. I’m neither going to gush uncontrollably about the film nor bash it. In fact, this will probably be my most serious review to date.

**Warning: Spoiler Alert** Like all reviews, this article may contain spoilers.

Synopsis

The Fake (사이비) is an animated film by Yeon Sang Ho (연상호) that takes a deep and critical look into organized religion or rather cults disguised as organized religion and how faith/hope can be misused.

It not only asks the question “Who is good and who is evil?” but explores how both natures can reside in everyone and how the face we show the world may not be our real face. Yeon explores the question of good and evil through the lens of a small town in Korea that is about to be flooded in a hydro dam project and a “church” that is offering them hope in exchange for their life savings.

And of course, it’s not that simple. You see, one man comes back to the village and despite (or perhaps because of) his abusive nature tries to show the village that the pastor and church elder aren’t what they seem. While it is obvious from the start that the church elder is a con man, the pastor seems to be a true religious man. Is he?

My thoughts

Faith, hope, good and evil are examined under the lenses of religion (although I would say the “church” in question is more of a cult than a legit church in any of the recognized organized religions). It’s a dark, uncompromising film with a host of characters centered in a small village, most of which are hard to grow attached to. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film with so many disagreeable characters. Perhaps it’s my glass-half-full outlook on life but I have to say this was my major problem with the film – the lack of balance with the characters. Sure, there are bad people – I’d even go so far as to say there are evil people – but almost everyone in this film is either evil, bad/mean, or a spineless victim. In fact, there was only one character in the entire film that didn’t fall into one of those categories for me (the convenience store owner with a sick wife).

Did I enjoy it? No, not really. But the better question is: Did I stay engaged and invested in the story throughout the film? Yeah, I did. And being me, I even teared up just a bit near the end. Like I said before, it’s a very dark and very cynical film with characters you’ll either hate or feel sorry for. And while I did feel that the lack of any good characters to balance out the bad (society – all societies – is made up of both) was detrimental, Yeon did a good job at developing and showing insight into the characters and their personalities. Enough that I actually felt sorry for the main protagonist at the end despite his evil nature.

Throughout the film, three thoughts stayed prominent in my mind. First, I was absolutely amazed by the sheer amount (and variety) of bad language in the film. Perhaps this seems like a trivial point but while I was watching the film, it was the first observation I made. The scene in the bar when the main protagonist confronts the female owner/manager would be a good illustration of this. [Side note: it also illustrated just how many Korean swear words I know as I didn’t need to read the subtitles then.]

The second point was the one I talked about before – the unlikable characters – so I won’t go into it any further.

And the final thought that stayed with me from the film was probably the one that the director was trying to point out to the audience: how faith/hope can not only be abused, but be abused so easily. It’s unfortunate that there are people who will take advantage of those who are dying or whom simply lack hope or something to believe in but it does happen all over the world. But I did like the little bit of balance that was shown with the scene when the convenience store owner was talking about how peaceful his wife looked after dying full of faith that she was going to a better place.

Final thoughts

A well-crafted animated film that won’t make you happy but which is both engaging and thought-provoking. Worth watching!

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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