Yeon Sangho becomes with his sophomore feature (after the equally blistering King of Pigs) one of the masters of contemporary adult animation.
A dramatic personal and community tales of twists and turns, but constantly focused on faith and fake, The Fake tells with unparalleled clarity the need to believe and betrayed.
Set in a South Korean village which is soon to be flooded for the construction of a new dam, the film presents its 144.000 citizens become increasingly devout and religious.
Promise of a pastoral town made by church elder Choid Gyeong-seok (Kwon Hae-hyo) is enough to beguile the flock and put their bank savings to this heavenly dream. At the same time, none of them will ever admit (even when shown evidence) that the church elder is nothing than a conman and a merciless manipulator of faith.
The second powerful persona in the drama, the young and handsome Reverend Sung (Oh Jung-se) does not seem to object Choid's methods of guidance, when he has the liberty to perform his own small 'miracles' and prescribe 'holy water' instead of medication to a woman suffering from tuberculosis. Sung (who has his own secrets to hide) feels convinced that he is 'God's messenger'.
The person who will act as the catalyst is the fierce, violent outcast Kim Min-chul (Yang Ik-june), who decides to return home, bring havoc to his wife and daughter, and face the disbelief of the whole village.
Unlikeable as the plague, Kim Min-chul soon becomes the voice of reason and the face of Satan at the same time.
A masterful script (also by Yeon Sangho) makes the relationships between the three characters feel like a game of cards, who need to get hold of each other up to the final defeat. The credulity of local characters to religious fervour is given with precision, like performing individual X-rays. The religious atmosphere of the impending Apocalypse is enforced by the complete incredulity of law inforcement, who only get to act in the last minute -before that, their main preoccupation is their delivery meal.
Shot mostly in interiors and with a powerful intensity of a psychological drama, The Fake still presents a visual background of "wild flowers in the field" according to Evangelist Matthew's citation, the only ones to survive the lack of politics and its substitution with the impending doom and its effects .
Matthew's phrase is also what Choid Gyeong-seok repeats to Kim Min-chul's daughter to convince her of "Lord's" good intentions; the young girl becomes the fourth major character in the quartet,, and the only one in the film to love and get gravely concerned about her own, deteriorating fate. But the real tragic character is Reverend Sung himself, who sets out the rhetoric of heaven to get rid of his own personal demons.
The Fake does not present just another religious hypocricy masked as spiritual need, but takes to task its most devout practitioners for conducting crimes.
With short takes and swift action, The Fake has its own share of violence and foul language, but this does not distract from the mesmerizing effect of character development. This psychological realism is in full effect, making the animation process almost invisible and its coloring a version of any film noir (just substitute black with night blue).
For its daring theme and impeccable storytelling embedded in a beguilingly simple animation, The Fake is one of the best animated films of the year.