REVIEW: DVD Release: Chaw

Film: Chaw
Release date: 1st March 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 117 mins
Director: Shin Jeong-won
Starring: Eom Tae-woong, Yoon Jae-Moon, Josiah D. Lee
Genre: Horror/Comedy
Studio: Optimum
Format: DVD
Country: South Korea

With films such as The Host doing good business internationally, director Shin Jeong-won is just one of South Korea’s new wave of filmmakers looking to cash-in on the Asian monster movie revival with his second feature to date.

Chaw begins as it means to go on; a drunk man stumbles down a hill, discovers a freshly uncovered grave, steals a wedding ring from the corpse and is promptly disposed of by the giant wild boar. From this we can establish the main elements that continually reoccur throughout the film; improbable slapstick comedy, greedy and selfish characters and frequent, if mostly inoffensive, violence.

We are then introduced to Officer Kim, a city cop with an enthusiastic approach to law enforcement, who discovers that he is being transferred to the village of Semeri, which dubs itself as ‘the crimeless village’. Surely he’ll be in for an easy time of it, right? Wrong. Before long the body count is piling up, and the grandfather of one of the victims of what is seemingly a murder spree comes to the realisation that the killer is actually an animal…a really big animal!

Officer Kim is then forced to join a team lead by the famous hunter Baek in an effort to track down and destroy the animal before it can cause anymore mayhem…

On the face of things, there is not much to distinguish Chaw from many other films of its type, and these comparisons are not only noticeable but clearly welcomed by Shin Jeong-won, who references Jaws, Predator and many other similar monster movies with light hearted enthusiasm.

There is certainly no lack of carnage in the film, the boar’s attack on the town hall is particularly notable as the films most successful action sequence, but in the midst of all the horror, there is always comic relief, reminding us that though we are dealing with typical horror subject matter, Chaw does not take itself altogether seriously.

The balancing of horror and comedy is something that the film does reasonably well, and some of the sequences involving the boar as it corners and devours its prey are genuinely unnerving. So, too, is Officer Kim’s next door neighbour - a crazy and mysterious woman who carries a doll around with her, convinced that it is her baby. This being said, some of the comedy is unnecessarily slapstick. There is only so many times we can be amused by people falling down a hill, or the police captain dishing out a beating to unsupportive officers, before it all becomes a bit tiresome, and this is something that Shin fails to grasp. The more subtle moments of humour actually work far better, such as the detective with a penchant for petty theft, or the officer who backs out just as his moment to become a hero seems to be reaching its climax.

The digital animation is of a good standard for the film’s limited budget, though the scenes involving the boar work much better when we are afforded glimpses of tusks or a close up of its eyes, as wider shots of the boar in motion seem cartoonish in comparison.

Considering the subject matter, Chaw manages to make a surprising amount of points about society, and we must admire Shin for including these in a film that could easily have been simply a farcical monster movie. Close ups of food being prepared and eaten force us to question our treatment of animals, and perhaps what right we have to be excluded from the food chain if something bigger and hungrier comes along. Almost every character also puts him or herself and others into danger as a result of pride or greed, and perhaps we are to ponder what is truly monstrous; an animal who merely does what comes naturally in order to feed itself and its young, or people who would sacrifice the safety of others in order to make a financial gain, or further their own careers? While the film engages with these matters, scenes in which it does are always broken by a moment of comedy, reminding us that we are not to take anything we see too seriously.

While most of the scenes in which the boar attacks work quite well, the longer the film goes on the less of a threat there seems to be. The lack of any real onscreen violence mean that we become used to the sight of the monster dragging its victims away in almost exactly the same manner every time, and consequently the tension that should be building as the film reaches its climax is lost, and we never truly feel that the main characters are in danger of being killed off. This is unfortunate as, with a little bit more tension and perhaps some more sustained and intense horror sequences, Chaw could have been raised from the level of decent horror-comedy, to a more noteworthy addition to the monster genre.

Scary in parts, funny in others; Chaw is an entertaining, if not groundbreaking, monster movie which delivers exactly what we would expect from such a film, and does so well, without adding anything particularly original or unexpected. PK

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