Chaw (차우, Shin Jung-won: 2009)

A peaceful rural village becomes terrorised when the remains of several missing people are found. The local investigators – who are joined by two city policemen in the investigation – think that there is a wild animal on the lose and try to work out how to stop it, something which proves to be more difficult than they could have imagined…

Chaw is a monster movie with a bloody great boar at the centre of it. While comparisons with the relatively recent blockbuster The Host are inevitable, Chaw plays itself almost completely for laughs with an oddball sense of humour and approach that brings the likes of the Kevin Bacon film Tremors to mind. It’s a tone that may well grate with viewers expecting the full on horror experience that the early Korean trailer for the film suggested, but its one that succeeds in charming you over and overlook just how predictable and straightforward the whole thing is.

With a clunky opening tone that takes a few minutes to settle, Chaw soon gets into its swing as it introduces an unlikely bunch of characters and sub-plots. Central to this is Officer Kim (played by Eom Tae-wong) the city policeman who has been transferred to the country, taking with him his pregnant wife and his slightly mad mother. Welcoming him with not-exactly-open-arms is the villages police force and officials, as well as pilfering City Detective Shin (Park Hyeok-gweon) and Cheon Il-man (Jang Hang-seon) – Grandfather to one of the victims and a retired hunter who suspects that the beast is a bigger problem than anyone realises. Then there’s Baek (Yoon Je-moon) – the big game hunter brought in to take care of the beast. This motley crew argue at every opportunity until they inevitably need to find it in themselves to work together to deal with the monster.

The first half of Chaw is concerned with the inhabitants of Sameri – a village that prides itself on its lack of crime – and there’s only ever the briefest of sightings of the creature that is terrorising the village, however from the halfway mark there’s an animal attack that gives us the mad monster in all of its impressive CGI glory – and some of its poorer CGI glory too. The special effects of Chaw range from pretty good to the down-right poor, but given the tongue-in-cheek nature of the film some of the more rawer effects are more than forgiveable. In fact – as is often the case – when the CGI is half decent it still feels a little flat, and so it is the occasional use of practical effects that, although laughable, have their own cheesy charm.

The second half of the film is more concerned with actively hunting the creature – as well as providing unnecessary explanations for the origins of the creature. This largely mumbled waffle about mixing breeds of pigs and experimentation – it’s totally unnecessary and adds nothing to Chaw . All we need to know is that there’s a big hairy pig eating humans and that someone needs to stop it. Luckily the reasoning is left behind fairly swiftly and we’re given a speedy second half that resembles a chase film. It’s less fun than the first half as much of the humour is left behind, and ultimately the CGI effects start to come into play more but the pace is quick and – a couple of gaping plot-holes aside – Chaw races to its conclusion with gusto and a sense of fun.

While Chaw takes a familiar monster movie formula and utilises it predictably (think of Jaws and you’ve got all of the plot beats), there’s also a few decidedly oddball moments that liven things up. For starters there’s a mad cackling woman (Go Seo-heui) whose sole inclusion seems to be to scare the crap out of everyone who is on the search for the giant boar, as well as some brief quirky storytelling visuals (such as images of the teams descendants cheekily reflecting on their own character) and one or two other fun moments, including hunter Baek having a conversation with his dog. Director Shin Jung-won is also well aware that he’s on well-trodden territory and gleefully references Jaws and Jurassic Park as well as what could well be nods to the likes of The Host.

Chaw is a whole lot of fun that doesn’t ask to be taken seriously. While The Host cleverly played itself out as a family drama with a monster in it, Chaw is primarily a monster film with very little else. If the prospect of a man-eating giant boar terrorising a village gets you excited (and who wouldn’t like that idea?) then it’s worth a look. With only the occasional flag in pace working against it, it’s pure popcorn nonsense and ultimately forgettable – but it’s hard not to be swept up in its playful tone.

차우 (Chaw)
Directed by Shin Jung-won
Produced by Park Kyung-duk
Written by Alyssa Leib, Shin Jung-won
Starring Eom Tae-wong, Park Hyeok-gweon, Jang Hang-seon, Yoon Je-moon, Kim Gi-cheon