When We Were Marks
The Foul King
Retro Column February 2006
Where Llakor Got His Avatar: The Foul King
Those of you who stumble across this blog, may be asking yourself: Where did Llakor get his avatar?
It's from the greatest (non-documentary) wrestling film ever (prior to The Wrestler) a Korean wrestling movie called The Foul King.
(The runner-up is a Japanese film called The Calamari Wrestler about a Japanese (heel) wrestling champion who is challenged from beyond the grave by his ex-partner whom he betrayed in the ring (and then stole his wife/girl friend outside of the ring) This ex-partner died, but was then reincarnated as a Human/Calamari hybrid. Honest to God. I couldn't make this shit up. It's by the same director Minoru Kawasaki who did Executive Koala, about a salaryman who is also a Giant Koala, The Rug Cop, about a hardboiled Japanese cop who takes down crooks by throwing his toupee at them, and Kawasaki's only real mis-step The World Sinks Except Japan, a apocalyptic satire about the rest of the world being covered by the rising seas except for Japan and the weird chaos that ensues.)
The story of the Foul King is pretty simple. The main character is a mild-mannered banker who gets pushed around by everyone around him: his co-workers, the commuters on the subway with him, the punks who hassle him and mug him on the way home, and his disabled Dad who browbeats him at home.
(One thing about Korean and Japanese subways is that they are so crowded that there are subway employees called Push Men whose only job is to literally cram the passengers into the cars so that they are as filled up as possible. There is a hilarious sequence where our hero is trying to get out of the subway at his stop and literally can't partly because the subway car is too crowded, partly because the other passengers are being ass-holes and mostly because our hero is too damn polite.)
One night, our hero is running from the local hoodlums and ends up hiding inside a local warehouse which turns out to be a small wrestling dojo. Attracted by the owner's daughter and convinced that wrestling will solve all his problems, our hero tries to convince the old and cranky owner of the dojo to train him. This takes a lot of convincing because the owner is suspicious of someone who literally just stumbled in out of the rain.
The training is mostly done by the owner's daughter who naturally knows more about wrestling than any one in the country other than her Dad.
It turns out that the grouchy owner wrestled under a hood as the cheating heel Foul King. (Possibly also called Tiger Mask.) When the time comes for our hero to be finish his training and choose a gimmick, the owner's daughter conspires for him to become the new Foul King.
The thing on his chest is not just his wrestling symbol and a fancy chest protector. It is hollow and inside there are all the "international objects" as Gordon Solie used to call them that a cheating wrestler would want - powders, rope, but especially a fork. There is a great sequence when our hero is presented with his wrestling fork and all the wrestlers gather around in respect and someone says reverently "Abdullah" and all the wrestlers nod.
(When I originally saw it, at this point, I was literally dying with laughter and about 500 non-wrestling fans in the theatre with me at Fantasia were looking at me like I was some kind of mutant. I think the only other guy in the theatre who understood the reference was the film programmer who organizes the El Santos films and the Godzilla movies.)
The new Foul King does a tour of the Korean countryside and becomes more and more popular. At which point, the Korean Vince McMahon approaches the dojo owner and former Foul King to put his new Foul King into the main event of the big Seoul show for the year which will be a tune-up match for the Korean champion before the Tokyo Dome show in Japan.
(In and of itself, there is an interesting display of hierarchy here as the wrestling dojo is lower on the totem pole in Korea than the big Korean fed, which is lower on the totem pole than Japan.)
Naturally, the former Foul King is suspicious and protests that his student is not yet ready for the main event of a Seoul super-card, but he allows himself to be convinced.
Admiral Ackbar: It's a trap!
The Korean Vince McMahon's plan is not just for his champion to have a tune-up match before Tokyo, it's to settle some scores that he has with the old Foul King by humiliating his student and to kill the Foul King character dead Dead DEAD by unmasking him.
And we all know what happens when you try and unmask a masked wrestler. SOMEONE IS GOING TO DIE.
That was probably more information that you needed.
Point is Foul King is a fricking amazing wrestling film. Hilarious with all kinds of references and jokes that you have to be a wrestling fan to get, but at the same time non-wrestling fans aren't alienated.
I should point out that I saw the film three maybe four years before I originally wrote this review in 2006, possibly longer. It was the summer before I saw my first IWS show, when Jericho won the indisputed title, so 2001? I haven't rewatched it since, so I am writing this from memory. Now, okay admittedly I am the guy with the freakish memory a la Archie Goodwin, still for a film to engrave itself into my memory for me to be able to literally quote scenes from it - it has to be a fricking incredible film. There are films that I saw within the last month where I would have to search my memory HARD just to remember the title, but this film is as fresh for me as if I saw it yesterday.
If the film has a weakness/weaknesses there are two - one the film is filled with clichés and two the hero goes from trainee to main event waaaaay too fast. But to its credit, the film is aware of these weaknesses and does its best to address them. For instance, while the film follows the structure of the 98 pound weakling at the beach comic book ads, it does make it clear that the problem is not the hero's physique, it is his reluctance to use his size and strength, his refusal to be assertive.
In terms of the speed with which our hero goes from trainee to main event, the film does document the various steps that a wrestler has to go to to get from one stage to another. One of the standard techniques of drama is to compress events to heighten drama which explains the pace. And the film does make it clear that normally there would be a longer "paying your dues" process.
To answer the original question...
I use the Foul King avatar, because it's an amazing film; because it's an avatar about wrestling and I love wrestling especially masked wrestling; because it's an avatar about cinema and I love cinema especially foreign cinema and especially especially Asian cinema; because it's an avatar about Korea and I am rather fond of Korea even if I have never been there, the combination of Asia and Catholicism is irresistible to me; and finally, because I adore obscure pop culture references and you don't get much more obscure than a Korean comedy about a masked wrestler.
How's that for a run-on sentence? (And a run-on answer?)