Friday, April 1, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Chaw (2009)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Police officer Kim (Eom Tae-woong) suddenly finds himself transferred from Seoul to a precinct in a small farming village. Because Kim is officially willing to work anywhere, he has to grab his pregnant wife and his dement mother and move virtually at once. Is there no police union in South Korea?

Another question is why the village would need another uniform in addition to the half a dozen or so policemen already stationed in a place called "the crimeless village". That question is never quite answered directly, although the insane lack of competence and intelligence shown by Kim's new colleagues could be an explanation.

The arrival of at least one level-headed person turns out to be timely, though. A large animal, which will shortly be identified as an absurdly large boar, has begun a series of deadly attacks on just about anyone unlucky enough to cross its path. At first, the rather freaky village heads do the mayor of Amity thing, and try to sweep the whole business under the carpet. A boar attack on a weekend farming event convinces the town fathers that they have to take action. They call in a group of professional hunters lead by media darling Baek (Yoon Je-moon).

A short but exciting hunt later, Baek presents a dead female boar as the man killer everyone is afraid of, but the local old, wizened hunter Cheon Il-man (Jang Hang-seon) who has lost his granddaughter to the beast doesn't believe the animal to be the true culprit. Rather, or so he theorizes after a make-shift autopsy of the animal, the animal Baek has killed was just the true killer's wife.

Cheon Il-man is just all too right. The same night, the true killer boar breaks through the wall of the building where the villagers are celebrating the death of his wife by eating her and wreaks a little havoc.

Since most everything else that has happened has followed the Jaws template like nothing since Grizzly, a small group (but hey, it's not a trio) consisting of Kim, the city police detective Shin (Park Hyeok-kwon) who had been called when nobody was sure if the killings weren't murders, Baek, Cheon Il-man and the zoologist Soo-ryeon (Jeong Yu-mi), decides to search for the monster's lair and kill it.

Chaw is a weird one. While all of the film's plot beats are slavishly copied from Spielberg's Jaws, I'd never call this South Korean production a true rip-off. The difference does not lie in the difference in animal species or talent and interest of the filmmakers as it is between Jaws and Grizzly, it is a difference in tone. Chaw is not trying to be a thriller or horror movie, it is an absurd comedy that uses the big bad animal template to, well, I'm not completely sure to do what. It is most certainly not one of those boring genre parodies Hollywood likes to crap out like a dying elephant, but why exactly Chaws director Shin Jeong-won uses the template at all instead of just making an absurd comedy about weird people living in a weird little village never was too clear to me while watching it.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, because there is nothing in this world that can't be improved by the addition of a big freaking monster, be the monster a mutant boar or Margaret Thatcher. Less fortunately, I am not completely satisfied by the way the monster CGI is realized. While the boar wears a satisfyingly evil looking face, he is never looking all that real when he is moving. It comes down to the typical CGI problem of not looking physically massive enough and not moving like a living creature but like an animation.

Director Shin at least seems to have realized that his creature isn't much above SciFi channel standard and doesn't show too much of it too often, so that the creature troubles aren't the kiss of death for the film's entertainment value it could be.

More important - and more problematic to some - could be the film's humour. Even though this is also a monster movie, it is a comedy first, and it is a comedy whose humour is all over the place. It begins with annoying bumbling comic relief cop antics by the village police but then goes on to include just about any other kind of humour you could think of, from some mild things about poop to quite a bit of the black leftfield humour I have become acquainted with through South Korean films like The Host or The Quiet Family. There are moments of the absurd that turn into the humane and the tragic or hint at a darkness lying behind human relationships, yet also so much pure silliness that the latter is robbed of much of its impact. Many of the film's absurdities are funny, effective and worthwhile nonetheless, the trouble is that the jokes, the human angle and the monster bits never achieve the kind of thematic unity a film like The Host reaches.

Instead we have a technically (apart from CGI troubles that always also come down to taste) highly proficient monster movie that permanently gets waylaid by weird little jokes and asides and your typical Asian movie what-the-hells like Baek's talking (telepathic?) dog (Earl Wayne Ording - no, really, that's the dog actor's name) or the karaoke sequence.

This just doesn't add up to a completely satisfying movie, but to a film chockfull of fun little moments that is highly entertaining to watch if one likes monster movies and absurd humour and is willing to just follow the film wherever it leads, coherence be damned. In its own way, it beats most other Jaws copies easily, however faint this praise might sound.

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