‘Troll Factory’ Ending Explained & Movie Recap: Did Sang-Jin Reveal The Truth About Manjun?

It’s quite scary to think that the more people around the world become connected with each other, the more a sense of insecurity, loss of personal identity, and lack of privacy start gripping them. The digital space, which brings people closer, is a void where truth and fiction simultaneously overlap to create a reality that holds ultimate power; the space itself acts as judge, jury, and executioner at the same time. Earlier, people used to believe that the media held the power to make or even break the system that makes the world operate, but now the power lies in the digital space, shared among nameless, faceless ‘beings’ scattered across the globe who decide the fate of a single individual in a smaller context and of the world itself in a much larger context. 


Director Ahn Gooc-Jiin has tried to feel the pulse of this ever-increasing source of power through his brilliantly made thriller Troll Factory. The movie examines the very topical issue of internet sensationalism and how it manipulates the perception of the mass through the lens of investigative journalism, and apparently is based on true events of South Korean bureaucratic corruption aided by a leading conglomerate group.

Spoilers Ahead


What Was the History of South Korea’s Candlelight Protests?

Troll Factory opens with the narration of journalist Sang-Jin, who shares details about the Candlelight Vigil of South Korea during 2016–17, when one third of the nation took to the roads to protest against the then corrupt President, and a conglomerate referred to in the movie as Manjun Group had to apologize in front of the public for their involvement. The said conglomerate was part of the twenty odd top corporate organizations in the nation that were actively involved with the nation’s politics and swayed public opinion via their grip on the media. Sang-Jin shares that the origin of the Candlelight Vigil can be traced back to 1992, when a middle schooler, Deavil (Username), led the country’s first candlelight protest against the monetization of the internet, which was once again the handiwork of the Manjun group. As an admin of a BBS travel network himself, the 16-year-old boy tried to share the spirit of the candlelight protest among members of the group. Due to internet connectivity not being as expansive or fast as it is nowadays, Deavil’s protest didn’t succeed, but his idea lived on, and more than two decades later, the Candlelight Vigil followed a similar modus operandi to bring millions of people to the streets to raise their voice, which resulted in the government getting upended and Manjun getting rattled to their core. This goes to show the all-pervading impact the internet has on the world, which Sang-Jil wants to focus on, as the story of him tackling Manjun is a testament to this as well. 

Was Sang-Jin able to help Wooshang Corp get justice?

Years ago (unspecified), Mr. Park, CEO of a mid-level corporation, Wooshang Corp.,  approached Sang-Jin with a tip that highlighted Manjun’s unethical, aggressive business tactics and also his close association with the country’s administrative sector. Wooshang had developed a high-tech transponder after five years of research and development, and as the only vendor to supply such technology, they were on their way to a lucrative annual deal with the highway authority. However, Manjun interfered by secretly sending their people with jammers on the testing day; in addition to that, the chief official was in cahoots with Manjun as well. Which resulted in Wooshang losing the contract and going bankrupt. To further salt the wound, the tech and the employees of the company were taken by another vendor who won the contract merely six months later, and to no one’s surprise, it was a Manjun subsidiary. In hopes of getting justice, Mr. Park came to Sang-Jin, who investigated the case. Realizing Park’s assessment to be accurate, he shared the news with his editor-in-chief to get permission to run it.


However, contrary to Sang-Jin’s assumption he’d have an exposé on Manjun, the news creates a furor everywhere, with his editors blaming him for coming up with a half-baked story as Manjun has already presented false evidence to prove their innocence. Moreover, Mr. Park has ‘taken his life’ under mysterious circumstances, leaving Sang-Jin no way to follow up with his news or come up with a victim’s statement. Overnight, Sang-Jin became regarded as the journalist whose article led to someone’s suicide, and online vitriol over the incident cornered him from every side. His editor-in-chief reveals that Manjun associates have started suing Sang-Jin as well, which will be taken care of by the media house, and he advises him to take leave for half a year as his news is bringing too much heat to handle. Sang-Jin tries to argue about the evidence being falsified, but he is already under much pressure for bringing such a bad rep; he has no other option except to stay put for over fourteen months. By the time Sang-Jin returns, the new editor-in-chief shares her unwillingness to reinstate a journalist with a tarnished image like Sang-Jin. His efforts to seek a job from other media outlets keep getting rejected as well, and it becomes clear that not only has Sang-Jin failed to get justice for Mr. Park, but he himself has been entrapped in an absolute mess as well. 

Why did Chattatkat seek Sang-Jin’s help?

Once, while checking the inbox of his social media handle, Sang-Jin finds out a journalism professor has shared details about Manjun’s tactics of using hate comments on online platforms to defame detractors and bury investigations by generating public outcry in favor of them. Curious, Sang-Jin decides to accept the professor’s invitation to meet in person and finds out that, in reality, a college passout had messaged him by keeping his identity hidden in order to get help against Manjun in a case of his own. Sang-Jin decides to turn his back before getting roped into another prolonged investigation against the conglomerate, which he fears will result in the same outcome as the earlier one. However, the teenager’s belief in his Wooshang investigation being legit makes him think otherwise, and as the teenager shares that his group was the first to employ online hate tactics to manipulate public opinion, Sang-Jin decides to hear out their case. 


The teenager, referred to by his user name, Chattatkat, reveals that along with his two friends, Jjingpeotking and Paeptaek, he first became involved in the secretive online trade of lifestyle marketing, as the trio helped a cigarette company advertise their brand online by catfishing. Their business grew, and in no time, Jjingpeotking (their main representative) was in contact with a small-time movie producer, who asked for their help to pump up the ticket sales of his latest release. The friends planted a false story in online forums about inequality and mistreatment of workers in a much popular big-budget movie set that was running in theaters at the same time. Worked-up netizens took no time to shame the studio, to such an extent that they issued a public apology even though no such incident took place on the set. The masses started boycotting the movie and flocked to the movie of the hapless producer. However, the producer ended up double-crossing the atrio by refusing to pay them and threatening to go to authorities to expose them. Chattatkat and co. had no other option except to back off, and later, Jjingpeotking was approached by a mysterious operative, who showed his appreciation of their ‘talent’, and coerced him to work for him. The moral support somewhat convinced the friends to take up a new job on behalf of this mysterious operative, even though the entire deal was extremely shady to begin with. 

As part of their first mission, the trio targeted a college student who was a member of the student union, and using fake accounts to bolster her morale and public image, they started to tarnish it right before the college election by beginning a trend of vitriolic online comments. Their actual target, however, was the father of the student, who took part in a one-man protest for several years for the reformation of the defamation lawsuit, which helped conglomerates evade the consequences of their actions. By tarnishing the image of his daughter in online forums, he was to be forced to seek help from the same defamation law he was protesting to reform, thereby making his efforts redundant. However, the spark of hate that the friend trio had initiated led to a much more nefarious public hate deluge, which eventually resulted in the girl taking her own life. Shaken, Jjingpeotking went to the mysterious employer of his, who revealed himself as an employee of Manjun, and also shared that their success has resulted in the creation of a separate division in Manjun to sway public opinion by manipulating online trends, discussions, and narratives. The Manjun operative offered Jjingpeotking a permanent place at the company, with his job being to oversee the new division. 


Whereas the trio still hasn’t gotten over the death of the girl and knows full well that her blood is on their hands, the absolute apathy of the corporation disgusts Jjingpeotking. Later, he gets abducted by an unknown party, while every detail of the jobs the trio has undertaken so far gets released online, resulting in Chattatkat and Paeptaek getting doxed online (the release of private information in a public or online forum with malicious intent). In fear of repercussions, Chattatkat has approached Sang-Jin in hopes of exposing Manjun. All the while, during their chat, Sang-Jin had recorded the entire conversation and managed to take a barely recognizable photo of Chattatkat as well. 

Was Sang-Jin able to share the truth about Manjun with the world?

Sang-Jin presents the entire story to the new editor-in-chief, who seems hesitant to publish it despite knowing the worth of such a scoop. There is no major circumstantial evidence to back the story up, which is why she initially refuses Sang-Jin’s exposé. Chattatkat had provided Sang-Jin with his writer’s forum ID, which allowed access to the trio’s activity on behalf of Manjun, which is evidence enough to at least build up a case against the conglomerate. However, Sang-Jin makes an amateur mistake by trying to get a statement from Manjun’s public opinion team, which alerts the conglomerate. The editor-in chief decides to publish the story, and even though Sang-Jin mentions waiting longer to build a solid case, she is unwilling to let go of an opportunity like this. Sang-Jin’s story gets published, and his news on “Manjun’s Troll Factory” gets the headline. 


However, in a surprising, or not so surprising, turn of events, the exact story only with the addition of ‘conning a journalist’ gets published hours before Sang-Jin’s article—in fanfiction forums—which makes it seem that Sang-Jin has plagiarized a story from an amateur writer in a desperate attempt to get back at Manjun. Chattatkat had given Sang-Jin his personal contact number, which conveniently turns out unreachable at the moment, and once again history repeats itself as Sang-Jin is disgraced for writing up the cock and bull story. Manjun’s online hate-spreading targeting Sang-Jin has started as well, and even though real commenters were initially inclined to believe, his past infamy has led them to think otherwise. Sang-Jin recognizes the ploy and tries to warn his colleagues and editor about the larger conspiracy of Manjun to discredit him, but realizes that his words are no longer valid in his office either due to his past reputation or because of the employees remaining under Manjun’s payroll. Even having the audio recording won’t help, as the editor straight up refuses to investigate to such a level to prove the story’s legitimacy. Acknowledging the fact that he is fighting for a losing cause, Sang-Jin storms out of his office. 

Sang-Jin continued his research, and using the username origin, which was sourced from an online game community meme, he reached Chattatkat’s collaborator, who turned out to be one of Manjun’s former employees turned whistleblower. The collaborator shared details, which reveal that he indeed knew Chattatkat, and everything he had told Sang-Jin about personal details was a lie. There was no Jjingpeotking; only the collaborator and Chattatkat were responsible for the entire operation. Sang-Jin recorded the audio, jotting down every necessary detail he needed, but didn’t repeat the same mistake. He knows better this time, and in order to bring Chattatkat out of hiding, he needs to follow a similar route. Sang-Jin anonymously posts his entire case and all the findings and details in online forums, strategizing the way Chattatkat would have done, and in no time, views start raking up, signifying that at last he is able to share the truth with the world without his past hindering him. The media outlets won’t hire him, but he doesn’t need them to share his experience any longer. Manjun will sustain irreparable damage to their reputation, all through a similar anonymous netizen targeting them online.


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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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