Chaw is an surprising little film to come out of Korea. It’s not a historical drama, nor a modern thriller, nor a huge piece of CGI-assisted melodrama like Haeundae, my last Korean film experience. It’s a proper monstrous-animal B-movie, and much of the buzz surrounding the film has compared it to Spielberg’s Jaws or the Aussie cult classic Razorback, also starring a gigantic boar. I cain’t think of another recent Korean film that’s gone for this particular genre, and I was fascinated to see how it turned out.
The film is set in the rural town of Sameri, self-described as the “crimeless village”, populated by a group of mildly odd townsfolk and watched over by a gaggle of inept policemen. Officer Kim (Eum Tae-woong), a harried young policeman from Seoul, is transferred there and told it’ll be easy; go fishing and watch tractors, he’s told, enjoy it while you can. The most complicated thing on anyone’s mind seems to be fleecing city tourists mad for organic produce: that is, until the body parts start turning up. One of the victims is the granddaughter of an grizzled old hunter, and it is he who closes the movie’s introduction with a slow melodramatic close-up… “Only a mountain animal can leave wounds like this.“
Like Haeundae, there’s a large cast of wacky characters all developing subplots that are either strictly dramatic (the world-weary detective, or Kim’s ill mother) or related to the central theme of, well, boar-hunting; we soon meet two researchers who happen to be studying the adaptation of wild boars to environmental changes (wink, wink), and a young hunter with unusual hunting dogs who comes to town to test his mettle against the creature. There’s so much going on, in fact, that the boar itself is almost elbowed out of the picture for the first half until our focus settles on the hunt. The boar itself is a flurry of high-speed, oddly cuddly-looking CGI, and it’s reasonably well-executed if you’ve already bought into the campy feel of the film.
All in all, Chaw is a bit of a monstrous hybrid itself. It’s a bit too camp (and perhaps a bit long and unfocused) to be the really taut thriller I was hoping for, but the general wackiness and light tone does make for a more unpredictable, fun movie. See it for the baby pigs and the hip-hop performance in the middle!