The monster movie returns to Korean screens in the unlikely form of a giant killer pig with “Chaw”, directed by Shin Jung Won. Perhaps unsurprisingly, rather than taking itself seriously the film aims for a mixture of laughs and scares, something which Shin had dabbled with previously to some success with the wacky “Sisily 2km”. A big budget blockbuster thriller with a cast of familiar faces, the film certainly proved a hit at the domestic box office, racking up an impressive 1.25 million admissions during the first three weeks of its release, suggesting that audiences certainly do have an appetite for murderous pork.
The film is set in the rural village of Sameri, which has long been peaceful and crime free. All of this changes when a visiting ecologist called Soo Ryeon (Jung Yoo Mi, “Family Ties”) stumbles upon the half-eaten remains of a young woman. Having been transferred to the area from the big city, Officer Kim Kang Su (Uhm Tae Woong, recently in “Forever the Moment”) takes on the case, and quickly comes to the conclusion that a wild animal was responsible. As the attacks continue, retired big game hunter and grandfather of the first victim, Cheon Il Man (Jang Hang Seon), claims that the culprit was in fact a giant man-eating mutant boar, the result of Japanese pig breeding experiments. Eventually, once the town officials finally accept the truth, they bring in Baek (Yoon Je Moon), the nation’s most famous hunter, who heads off to kill the murderous beast, with Soo Ryeon, Kim Kang Su and Cheon Il Man all in tow.
Its leftfield choice of killer creature aside, “Chaw” is a pretty straightforward outing, with all the expected elements of the monster genre very much present and correct. In fact, director Shin follows the time-honoured “Jaws” formula pretty much to the letter, right down to the catching of a lesser beast and the cutting open of its stomach to check for undigested victims. The film is filled with red-tinted POV shots, greedy local officials and authority figures that ignore the obvious danger and a great many other familiar motifs and themes that most viewers will spot early on. Whilst this does make the plot eminently predictable, Shin directs with a sense of enthusiasm, and the film comes across as good, old fashioned fun rather than being derivative or tired.
The film certainly has a popcorn blockbuster feel to it, with slick production values, and good use of the gorgeous rural scenery, the mountains and forests providing an eye catching backdrop for the beast’s rampage. Wisely, Shin throws in plenty of boar attacks, and this helps to keep the action moving along at a good pace, with a few gruesome moments that serve well to maintain a sense of threat, if perhaps not actual tension. The monster pig is kept off screen until the halfway mark, which proves to be for the best, as the CGI effects are not particularly wonderful, though they serve their purpose well enough. There are a number of standout set pieces, including a well staged night time attack on the crowded town hall, and the film does have a good thrill quotient.
What helps to set “Chaw” apart is its oddball sense of humour, a mixture of lowbrow and black comedy that works surprisingly well and sits comfortably with the essentially daft premise. Shin is one of the few directors who has proved himself capable of pulling off the tricky balancing act of thrills and laughs, and as with “Sisily 2km”, the film is funny, and given the essentially daft premise, is undoubtedly all the better off for not taking itself seriously. Although not as refreshingly quirky or genre-challenging as Bong Joon Ho’s “The Host”, the proceedings do have a vaguely knowing, self referential feel, and Shin does a good job of poking fun at the form without undermining the film’s own entertainment value. The cast are all likeable enough and certainly seem to be having a fine old time, which of course makes it all the easier for the viewer to jump onboard for the ride. Similarly, whilst the film is generally populated by instantly recognisable stereotypes, there are a handful of amusingly bizarre characters that Shin seems to employ for no other reason than tangential laughs, including a crazy witch woman living in the woods, whose only purpose is to pop up once in a while to cackle and give the others a fright.
As a result, “Chaw” makes for a great deal of fun, and is highly entertaining throughout, being one of the rare examples where horror and humour actually complement each other. Although it doesn’t offer anything new, there really aren’t enough old school monster films around these days, and Shin certainly scores points for managing to capture the spirit of the genre and for reminding fans of the form what made it so enjoyable in the first place.
Jeong-won Shin (director) / Yong-cheol Kim, Jeong-won Shin (screenplay)
CAST: Tae-woong Eom … Police Officer Kim
Yoon Jae-Moon … Hunter Baek
Yu-mi Jeong … Su-ryeon
Josiah D. Lee … Detective #1
Earl Wayne Ording … Hero Dog
Hyeon-hwa Heo … Mi-yeong