It is often said that misery loves company, but even misery has a breaking point. In many ways The Fake reminded me a lot of an animated version of Only God Forgives. Though the plots are vastly different, both films feature unlikeable characters who exist within a world of corruption and misery. The heroes are not really heroic; they are just not as vile as everyone else, though even that is debatable.
Set in a rural village about to be flooded so a new construction development can commence, Yeon Sang-ho’s film is a scathing commentary on the evils of organized religion. In the village, the residents have put their faith, and most of their savings, behind their spiritual elder, Choi, and his new Pastor. The villagers believe that Choi and the Pastor will build a new spiritual housing complex that will bring everyone closer to God. What the villagers do not know is that Choi is a wanted con man, and he has no intentions of fulfilling his promises. The only one to see through Choi’s ruse is Min-chul, a deadbeat father in every sense of the word. Min-chul disappears for months on end only to return home in a drunken stupor to steal money from, and physically abuse, his wife and daughter. As Min-chul’s determination to expose Choi grows, so does his family’s attachment to the church. This sends everyone on a collision course for a high stakes showdown.
The Fake is a film that frequently gets muddled within its own ideas. By framing his film around a vile character such as Min-chul, Yeon Sang-ho makes a clear statement in regards to the greater evil. Min-chul is essentially a volatile monster who ruins his family’s happiness at every possible turn. However, is he more despicable than Choi’s exploitation of the community? Yeon Sang-ho’s film tries to argue that organized religion is far worse than Min-chul as it is a cult like atmosphere filled with empty promises. The film clearly wants to show that everyone should follow their own spiritual path and practices.
The problem with the way Yeon Sang-ho approaches this theme is that he does not seem to know what to do with the Pastor. Though the Pastor is not a completely innocent man in his own right, he is often portrayed as a well-meaning man who is a victim of an unfortunate event in his past. However, in order to fit into Yeon Sang-ho’s overall theme, the Pastor makes certain decisions that do not feel authentic to the character the film spent so long establishing. It is these convenient for convenience sake moments that make The Fake so frustrating at times.
It is obvious to see why Yeon Sang-ho would be drawn to such a topic. The various discussions and debates that the concept of religion evokes are endless. There are several moments in the film where Yeon Sang-ho makes some truly thought provoking points. Unfortunately, he tries so hard to showcase the evils of organized religion that he too often gets lost within his own ideas. The film revels in its misery to the point where it frequently overshadows the narrative. There is a good film somewhere within The Fake, but it is hard to find it buried under such messy ideology.