Korean Animation, All Grown Up

A scene from Lee Dae-hee's "Padak," to be screened Jan. 15 at Tribeca Cinemas.

A woman's lifeless body is slumped over a table while her husband, the murderer, cowers in the next room. A mackerel bangs against the glass walls of her tank, trying to escape the sushi chef’s knife.

These are scenes from "The King of Pigs" and "Padak," animated films screened this month at Tribeca Cinemas. Free and sponsored by the Korean Cultural Service, they certainly don’t come from the Disney vault.

In fact, forget Disney altogether. This is the unique work of South Korean animators, who have long been working to create a name and niche of their own.

For years, American cartoons dominated South Korea's domestic market while local animators lent their artistic talents abroad. It wasn't until the release of a Lucky Toothpaste commercial in 1956, Korea's first foray into animation, that a new movement began for the country’s filmmakers. A slew of animated commercials and experimental shorts followed and eventually the country's first full-length animated film, "Hong Gil-dong," was released in 1967.

A lot has changed since director Shin Song-hun was forced to re-use the celluloid left behind by the U.S. military in order to make "Hong Gil-dong." "The King of Pigs," a new movie written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon, is filled with sleek, mature, and often violent animation. It is a strictly adult tale, exploring issues of class inequality and violence in South Korea. The film, made for just $150,000, features both computer and hand-drawn animation. Yeon's story is a personal one, taken from his own experiences as a bullied high school student. The film flashes from the past to the present, from the brutal treatment of the two main characters as youths to the abuse that they now inflict on their wives.

In a very different look at brutality, Lee Dae-hee's "Padak" shows the desperate attempt of a fish named Flappy to escape her fate as dinner fare. Writer and directer Lee Dae-hee spent five years on the film, tirelessly working to create a realistic landscape and perfecting the fish's facial expressions. He even scouted out a sushi restaurant that fit the image of the one he had imagined. Having worked tirelessly there, observing and taking pictures, his efforts paid off. The sleek, cutting motion of the chef's knife and the dull thud of the fish's head was so frighteningly real that it put me off sushi—at least for a while.

"Padak" will be shown Tuesday, Jan. 29 at Tribeca Cinemas, 54 Varick St. Admission is free. tribecacinemas.com. "The King of Pigs" screened earlier this month.