The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale is a rather ambitious piece of work from director Park. Maybe too ambitious. It’s not just about juxtaposing old aged hunter Choi Min-sik against the last tiger in Korea (the film’s set during Japanese occupation when the Japanese were having all the tigers exterminated), it’s also about juxtaposing almost as middle aged hunter Jeong Man-sik against Choi. And sort of the tiger. And then there’s this juxtaposing of Choi’s son, Sung Yoo-Bin, against the military officer in charge of this particular tiger hunt who’s a Korean in the Japanese army. That officer, played by Won Jung-suk, employs Jeong in the tiger hunt.
All of the performances are excellent, including Kim Sang-ho as Jeong’s amusing sidekick. Not particularly funny because there’s nothing funny in The Tiger. It’s about dead wives, dead brothers, dead kids, foreign occupation, starvation. Nothing happy. When Park will do something cute with the tigers, it comes off as fantasy. Similarly, and successfully in terms of the juxtaposing attempts, when the film flashbacks to Choi’s younger, happier days, it also comes off as fantasy. Some sort of idealized memory, with cinematographer Lee Mo-gae letting some saturation into the frame.
It’s a long film and very deliberately told. Only since Park’s busy working up the juxtaposition of the old hunters–Choi and the last tiger–he doesn’t do enough to tie Choi into the main plot. Because even though Choi’s ostensibly the lead, the film plays far more from Jeong’s perspective. Or even Won’s.
There’s also a lyrical quality to the film. Park wants to showcase the majesty of the mountain setting, using CGI to get the point across when need be. He’s pretty good at augmenting with the digital effects, but he and cinematographer Lee don’t have a scale for their exterior shots. They’re far more comfortable in medium shots on the ground than the extreme long shots of the mountains, which may or may not be entirely digital. It’d help if Park could have done the majesty.
Jo Yeong-wook’s score is a great metaphor for the film itself. Jo delivers a fine score with some great moments, but it’s not what the film needs. It knows what the film needs, it just doesn’t deliver it.
The Tiger’s got the performances going for it and some excellent sequences. Park doesn’t get where he’s trying to go, unfortunately. The narrative is methodical and it needs to be jumpy, in a lyrical sort of way.
Very nice digital effects on the tigers too. Not so much on the other wildlife–it’s always fine, but the the tigers are just phenomenal.
Written and directed by Park Hoon-jung; director of photography, Lee Mo-gae; music by Jo Yeong-wook; produced by Park Min-jung; released by Next Entertainment World.
Starring Choi Min-sik (Chun Man-duk), Sung Yoo-bin (Suk-yi), Jeong Man-sik (Goo-gyeong), Kim Sang-ho (Chil-goo), Won Jung-suk (Military Officer Ryu), Ôsugi Ren (Government Official Maezono) and Kim Hong-pa (Herbal shop owner).