This article contains mild spoilers. A dark and gripping tale of high school bullying is reborn on the small screen in The King of Pigs , a live-action TV drama remake of Train to Busan director Yeon Sang-ho’s unflinching animated debut of the same name from 2011. Kim Dong-wook ( You Are My Spring ) and Kim Sung-kyu ( One Ordinary Day ) lead the series as two men who used to be close friends in middle school but drifted apart because of the traumatic events they experienced there. A series of crimes brings back their memories of the past and pits these one-time school chums into one another’s orbits again. School bullying is a popular trope in Korean dramas, providing the fuel to the dramatic fire of many shows, running from soapy makjang dramas like The Penthouse all the way to big-budget genre offerings like All of Us Are Dead . Sadly, the popularity of this dramatic trope is rooted in one of the country’s pervasive social ills – the pressure-cooker Korean education system, buttressed by society’s classist prejudices, is notorious for abuse. 8 new Korean drama series to look out for in March 2022 Indeed, so prevalent is it that the production of several recent Korean drama series has been affected behind the scenes by revelations of past bullying by cast members. Yet school bullying on the screen is often handled in a very superficial manner. Injustice inflicted on the innocent invariably induces our indignation, but few shows bother with the complexities of school violence and its psychological impact. Launched at the Busan International Film Festival in 2011 and screened at the Cannes festival the following year, The King of Pigs predates the current trend for portraying victimisation at school merely as a tool to align us with or against certain characters. Yeon’s savage film pulled no punches with its unvarnished view of school bullying in South Korea and particularly its lasting effects; it’s a tale that presents uncomfortable truths about how violence can mould us. That may sound off-putting, and the truth is that Yeon’s film, terrific and unforgettable as it is, was too bitter a pill to swallow for many viewers. TVing’s 12-part drama, currently airing, is made more accessible by reframing the story as a procedural, while never losing its hold on the essence of the original. Kang Kyung-min (Kim Dong-wook) is a successful businessman who has just fled a smoke-filled flat where his wife’s corpse lies on the living room floor. The police who first entered the scene initially rule it a suicide, but detective Kang Jin-ah (Chae Jung-an) isn’t so sure. The woman’s body shows signs of trauma. Then a note is found scrawled in red on a window, from Kyung-min to a detective named Jung Jong-suk, asking “How’s it going?” Jin-ah seeks out Jung (Kim Sung-kyu), a driven detective who is not afraid to get his hands dirty, as evidenced by his participation as the victim in a staged fight video to lure a criminal when we first meet him. Jung joins Jin-ah’s investigation, albeit unofficially, and together they embark on the dark road towards the events that transpired at Sin Seok Middle School 20 years earlier. Kyung-min should be on the lam, but rather than escape, his mind seems to be elsewhere as he experiences visions of a man in a chilling pig mask who seems to hold sway over him. The man in the mask seduces him with his twisted world view and compels him to carry out dark commands. These commands lead Kyung-min on a trip down memory lane, as he revisits his traumatic childhood, when he was both victim to his abusive father and a pack of cruel school bullies. This eventually leads him to a car repair shop tied to his taxi company, Sin Seok Transportation. Kyung-min is known at work as Nam Gi-cheol, which is significant, as the brash and racist Mr Ahn who runs the repair shop is one of Kyung-min’s tormentors from school and doesn’t realise who his boss is. Planning to do him harm, Kyung-min goes over to Mr Ahn’s home for a drink, a gaudy flat with a gigantic family portrait dominating the living room. He begins talking about Pandora’s Box – in Greek mythology, a container Pandora is compelled by curiosity to open and thereby unleashes torment on mankind. Kyung-min talks about hope, the “last thing that escaped” from the box, explaining that for most people it’s what helps them get through the misery of life, yet for him is merely the cue for more misery. As he speaks, Kyung-min’s face is refracted in the frame as though seen within a kaleidoscope. This representation of his split personality, a schism that presumably occurred during those school days, is a recurrent image; his split personality is also reflected in his use of an alias and his seemingly happy married life before his wife’s sudden death. Assuming it will stick to the major narrative beats of the original, The King of Pigs is likely to get considerably darker over the coming weeks, but its engaging narrative, characterisations and brooding tone give us reasons to stick with it until the series gets to the bottom of its mystery. The King of Pigs is streaming on Bilibili in selected territories.