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(Movie Review) Full of wit and humor, monster flick draws laughter rather than chills

All Headlines 10:03 July 09, 2009

(ATTN: photos available)
By Shin Hae-in

SEOUL, July 9 (Yonhap) -- From its drooling jaws to its bulbous eyes, the man-eating boar in "Chaw" is actually kind of cute. So if you're looking to have shivers sent down your spine, it may be best to opt for something other than this latest Korean monster flick.

The emphasis on the film's narrative sometimes leaves the visual effects looking a little flat, but the well-structured plot can't be faulted. So if you're ready to settle for some distinctly Korean sarcastic humor and black comedy, "Chaw" may be the right choice.

The community headman of a calm and peaceful fictional mountain town of Sameri, crimeless for years, dreams about developing the village to bring an economic boost to the area.

But one day, a terribly mutilated dead body is discovered in the grove of the new development area, and as the news spreads, the entire village descends into panic.

Upon investigation, the victim is confirmed to be a young girl attacked by a wild boar. The villagers demand that the development project be suspended, but the headman, greedy for money, ignores the pleas and pushes ahead.

Soon, "Chaw" attacks again and terrorizes the entire town, provoking political recriminations, a cover-up by the police and arrival of bounty hunters looking to end the animal's rampage.

Despite its overwhelming appetite spanning all sorts of genres from drama, romance and comedy to horror, murder and mystery, the Korean film industry has been traditionally weak in monster films.

With a rare exception of Bong Joon-ho's "Host (2006)," the first film to surpass the 10-million viewer mark at the domestic box office, local monster flicks have often been ridiculed for their coarse computer graphics and tacky storyline.

The mutant pig in "Chaw" is actually quite realistic -- with an adequate mix of Hollywood-made computer-generated imagery and practical effects -- considering its predecessors who have done much worse. The monster is only a minor player in this case, anyway.

Director Shin Jeong-won, who debuted with "Sisily 2km (To catch a Virgin Ghost)" in 2004, has been noted for his talent at "telling," rather than "showing" stories. Dubbed "Korea's Tim Burton" among fellow auteurs, Shin again shows the extent of unique effects that can be provoked by a well-written scenario.

"Korea has never had a film dealing with real life killer creatures like 'Alligator' and 'Anacondas.' I was intrigued by the idea of a familiar animal attacking and killing humans and wanted to create something out of this unexpectedness. But most of all, I wanted something funny and unique," Shin said.

The film doesn't really seem interested on featuring lives saved or the hunt for the beast: rather it focuses on the irony of men being slaughtered by the giant pig while ravenously eating barbequed pork, and explores the five main characters who want to hunt the monster down for varying reasons.

There are no real chills or scares -- after all, how scary can a pig be no matter the size? -- but the film draws a good laugh every other minute, as the director combines suspense, sarcasm and comedy.

"Chaw" is hardly darker, more bone-chilling or emotionally profound compared to its predecessor "Host." But clearly entertaining, the film appears to have hatched a genre of its own as a "monster black comedy."

"Chaw," shot in Seoul and San Francisco, has been picked up by Hollywood's Variety Fine Cut and will also be released in the United States this year.

Starring Eom Tae-woong, Jeong Yu-mi and Yoon Jae-moon, the film will hit the local theaters beginning July 16.


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