Friday, 4 November 2016

Chaw (2009) [Mini-Review]


Director: Shin Jung-won
Screenplay: Shin Jung-won and Kim Yung-chul
Cast: Uhm Tae-woong (as Kim Kang-soo); Jung Yu-mi (as Byun Soo-ryun); Jang Hang-sun (as Chun Il-man); Yoon Je-moon (as Baek Man-bae); Park Hyuk-kwon (as Detective Shin); Kim Gi-cheon (as the Village Chief)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #57

The premise of a giant man-eating boar rampaging a small Korean town - even if it's openly lifting plot structure from Jaws (1975) - is a solid one to work with. There's a blurring between guilt over the damage over the environment human beings have committed and a fear of nature which can be exploited through a film like this, the notion of nature attacking as a plot, something which exploded in the seventies, a perfect one to show our inherent weakness in the wilderness alongside the revealing our own responsibility for said punishment being handed out to us. A large problem with being able to make another film like this now is that, if it remotely veers into the area of monsters, they can easily fall into becoming comical, the result of the Syfy CGI films having a detrimental effect on taking giant animals seriously. Chaw does suffer from having to make its giant boar CGI at points but, particularly as an actual prop boar was used at other points, it's a credible threat nonetheless especially as a lumbering, tank-like entity which rampages and gores anything in its way. Following the plot of Kim Kang-soo (Uhm Tae-woong), a cop transferred from the city of Seoul and expecting to give tractor drivers speeding tickets, and the police forced to try to stop the animal, this lesser known South Korean genre movie can make a board devouring people work.

The clichés in fact help, as they justify the notion that, if something isn't broke, there's no point to fix them. The Jaws plot that the officials would rather have tourism at their harvest festival regardless of the possible deaths works as, like Jaws and if such an event happened in real life, it brings a conundrum that even to protect the lives would compromise the economy of the village as it would the coastal town of Jaws. Having the old, grizzled hunter Chun Il-man (Jang Hang-sun) helps as a dramatic lynchpin, going after the boar when it devours his granddaughter, and as a counter to Baek Man-bae (Yoon Je-moon), the celebrity big game hunter and former understudy whose magazine appearances and multi-ethnic band of fellow hunters armed with high tech weaponry aren't a match to the boar's almost bulletproof fur.


The problem with Chaw is its strange quirks getting in the way of interesting story development. Asian cinema in general has a lot of tonal shifts so this isn't an issue for me, having become acclimatised and actually fonder of this style than with more rigid Western story telling structure, but Chaw does feel bloated with pieces which prevent the film from fleshing out its characters and plot beyond the starting clichés. For all the funny moments - the utterly incompetent and lazy police chief who demands his young police officers go to pick up maimed body parts from crime scenes, to the stranger jokes like a pair of obnoxious rappers performing at a celebratory party to mostly middle aged farmers - there's aspects, particularly characters, who make no sense and feel out of place. Kang-soo's mother, with dementia but played like a comically absurd figure out of reality, is one, and the most egregious, and actually disturbing, is a homeless mad woman who has claimed a young orphaned boy and beats him if he doesn't call her his mother, something never resolved or actually part of the plot, something that comes off as creepy in a film that's bizarrely whimsical for a great deal of its length.

The film eventually becomes predictable as well, the blend of action and monster movie starting to lose me emotionally by the end - it stresses that, as a preference, even a rollercoaster of a film about thrills needs to take time to put the characters and their interactions first even for, as here, a railway cart chase from a boar so I can worry for their situation. The reason Jaws has its legacy, in my opinion, is not just its chills but that it's a hybrid of turn of the century pulp storytelling and the drama of the then-modern seventies Hollywood cinema alongside the thrill of the giant shark. Chaw does well with moderately interesting and funny characters but by its end, when it needed an adrenaline boost of emotional drama, it merely peters out. It's certainly an odd, fascinating duck of a movie - the end credits has the cast, including those who were eaten, pop up from behind bushes and fences smiling to the camera as their name appears under them - but the full film merely does the average level of quality expected from it and nothing more.


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