blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Chaw (2009, Shin Jeong-won)

Chaw tells the familiar tale of a man-eating wild boar and the brave villagers who confront it. The boar’s descended from the mutant boors the Japanese created when they invaded Korea. These abominations have been low-key terrorizing the countryside for decades and as the hipsters started doing weekend trips from Seoul into the countryside, things have gotten worse. The boars have gotten a taste for man-flesh, which post-grads Jung Yu-mi and Ha Sung-kwang have been investigating for years in hopes of breaking it big into tenured positions. They just happen to be in this one particular village when the giant man-eating boar attacks, and the timing coincides with Seoul cop Eom Tae-woong getting reassigned to this one particular village, which is important because Jung and Eom are going to be the third act action heroes.

Eom’s brought along mom Park Hye-jin and wife Heo Yeon-hwa; Park’s got dementia (you wouldn’t feel good about it, but you’ll laugh at her dementia antics too) and Heo’s pregnant. Heo and Eom might have chemistry together, but they’re never in the movie long enough together for anyone to find out. Heo’s got home stuff to do, not protagonist work like Eom.

Eom initially shares the spotlight with absurd Seoul detective Park Hyuk-kwon. Chaw actually has an incredibly complicated first act, lots of characters, lots of layers. But the movie starts with a horrific Jaws-inspired death scene, followed by exceptionally straight-faced slapstick. Director and co-writer Shin isn’t shy about setting Chaw’s tone, which is one of its greatest assets. Along with his confidence. Chaw’s finale, which attaches the second half of Predator to the first half of Jaws, with some Aliens thrown in, is exceptional action direction. Especially since the film’s shot in frequently iffy DV. Shin and cinematographer Kim Yung-chul compensate—and the silliness but thoroughness of the CG wild boar helps a lot (it’s intentionally cute)–and it all works out.

But the first act is a lot. There are multiple victims to remember—and to remember who, if anyone, knows about the victim (since it’s a vacation town, I’m pretty sure at least one victim gets forgotten). Eom’s subplot initially seems to involve Park and Heo, but it doesn’t. Instead he becomes best friends with adorably weird detective Park—who never breaks character, which is the point, and it’s superb work start to finish, especially since all the village cops are buffoons. It’s like a mix of Se7en and Keystone Cops.

Eventually–Chaw’s real confident in its runtime—Shin knows they can keep this going for a couple hours, they just need to make it to the second act, and so the first act throws a bunch of spaghetti at the wall. All of it pays off in the end, which is chef’s kiss; Shin and Kim Yong-cheol’s script is so narratively sound it rings. But the first act. So lots of comedy, lots of characters.

The second act brings in master hunter Jang Hang-seon. He quickly becomes everyone’s grandpa. What if Robert Shaw was cuddly? Jang’s great.

So then it seems like it’s Eom, Jang, and Park. Jaws. Including some great homage scenes. Though much grosser with mammals than fish.

Then the movie adds Yun Je-mun to the mix. He’s Jang’s former protege who’s become a TV celebrity hunter. Yun’s weird. He does this macho thing until he gets sweet on Jung, then he’s very… inappropriate at times. Harmlessly? But grossly? Don’t sniff girls’ hair when they’re asleep, fellas.

It’s a neat, very amusing subplot the movie introduces in the second half for Yun and Jung. There are a number of major subplot resolutions in the second act. Chaw’s clearing the deck for the finale but also compensating for it not having an infinite amount of space for the hunting party to cover. There are only so many places the boar can be.

Chaw’s great. The main cast members all get nice standouts, the script’s strong, production’s good. Shin even knew not to show off too much when shooting with DV because who’s going to notice? It’s a delight.

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