Chaw (South Korea, 2009)
Chaw is a black comedy which depicts how a monstrous boar terrorizes a rural mountain village in South Korea. This immediately brings to mind Bong Joon-ho’s similarly satirical The Host (2006), although Chaw actually has a lot more in common with Jaws (1975). There is a basic narrative core, concerning a pressured policeman transferring to the countryside, and then how he teams up with a ragtag bunch of locals to hunt down the beast. However, there are several oddball subplots and characters, which all attempt to add layers of atmosphere and humor to the events. They do not always work, but that only creates more admiration for Chaw, as it is determined to not be a standard monster movie.
There is little to love about the urban environment of Seoul initially presented here, as the policemen checking for drunk drivers are verbally abused. However, Officer Kim (Eom Tae-woong) sees it as a paradise compared to the mountain village he is suddenly transferred to for budget reasons. Not only does he have to take his pregnant wife along, but also his senile mother, who is determined to explore the mountains beyond the confines of their new house. However, a multitude of dead villagers suddenly turn up, and flashes of a huge hairy beast are seen. An older local, and hunter, is convinced it is a giant boar that is terrorising the village. The media quickly takes an interest, and a former pupil of the elder hunter soon claims to have killed the beast. But then a devastating attack during a celebratory party forces the two hunters, Officer Kim, a young researcher to go after the beast – and keep Kim’s mother safe when she later escapes from his house.
Writer-director Shin Jung-won soon finds parallels between the craziness of Seoul and the obscure mountain village that Kim is suddenly dropped into. The local police chief is too content with the village’s quiet crime history to admit to a creature being loose, and initially tries to find other explanations. Another one of his officers is uninterested in any investigating at all, and only acts to save his own skin when the boar attacks the village party. Then, when a detective gets involved, his bossy demeanor gives way to cowardice by convincing Kim to accompany the hunters into the mountains. Add to this Kim’s mother, and an eccentric local woman obsessed with the younger hunter, and it is quickly apparent that there are a dizzying amount of characters being used in the film. Some are used for the smallest of reasons, such as dramatic but clichéd twists to some characters back-stories, to quick post-finale gags, which seem to have been the only reason for the presence of the eccentric local woman. Based on the characters in Chaw, not to mention those in earlier films such as To Catch a Virgin Ghost (2004), it seems that Shin is determined to highlight the crazy nature of everyday modern life by using extraordinary circumstances.
However, the film is perhaps strongest in its monster-focused elements. The gigantic boar is convincingly portrayed through a combination of computer graphics and puppetry. While there is little terror, there is plenty of gore, and the humor often blends excellently with it. This all amounts to an over-the-top climax, which may seem expected, but ultimately works very well, as its aftermath leads to the various character strands being brought together. Chaw is bold in several ways. It brings together horror and comedy; it is determined to include as many comedic characters as possible; and it had an ambitious budget of three billion won. As a result, it may not be perfect, but it is a welcome and quirky addition to contemporary monster cinema.