Get ready for a fusion of THE HOST and RAZORBACK ...
The opening titles play out above a montage of archive video footage showing wild animals being hunted, slain and cooked. A newscaster's voice reminds us that wild animals in Korea simply do not have enough food supply to survive in their own environment - and therefore their slaughter can be justified ...
Then we're off to the sleepy village of Semeri, a small crime-free haven where the local police ride around on bicycles with largely nothing to do. All that changes one evening when a grave robber has a run-in with an off-screen beast lurking in the local woodlands.
Investigating the case of grave robbing (being oblivious to the robber's fate, since no body was found), the police are warned by local businessmen to keep the case quiet. Semeri is working on building itself a reputation as a tourist spot, and the businessmen fear any increase in their non-existent crime rate will set their plans back.
Meanwhile in the city of Seoul, hotheaded traffic cop Kim (Tae-woong Eom) is having a typical night on duty: scuffling on the street with a drunk driver. Afterwards, Kim retires to a nearby cafe where his colleague drops a bombshell on him - Kim is to be transferred in one week's time to "a village station" in the small community of Semeri. Kim can hardly believe it; he was only joking when he put "anywhere" as his second choice on his transfer request form.
Kim arrives in Semeri at roughly the same time a young girl on a bicycle has a run-in with the beast lurking in the woods, and a couple of campers discover a severed hand attached to a magazine found outside their tent.
Suddenly the local police, so unused to dealing with dead bodies that they become nauseous at just the thought of uncovering corpses, believe they have a killer in their village. With the help of temperamental Kim, they hope to bring the murderer to justice swiftly and with the minimum of fuss.
But this killer is not quite what they think, when we (and they) finally get a first glimpse of what's behind the mayhem: a ferocious, giant boar!
With the media now alerted and the local businessmen growing increasingly frantic in their bid to lay this matter to rest, ex-hunter Il-man (Jang Hang-sun) saunters into the village making an offer to catch the killer pig. It transpires that he has his own very personal reason for wanting the boar dead.
Il-man's invitation is met by the surprise arrival of celebrity game hunter Baek (Yoon Jae-Moon), who turns up in sunglasses and is revered like a rock star by the local men.
Together, the men pledge to bring the boar in. Gathering a team that also comprises of meek biologist Su-ryeon (Jeong Yu-mi) and Kim, they set off into the woods in pursuit of their game.
In the meantime, you can rest assured that some foolhardy souls are prepared to carry on partying and the like as if nothing was wrong - and provide more fodder for the hungry creature to feast upon.
CHAW looks and sounds great. On a technical level, it is a triumph.
The tightly directed action sequences benefit hugely from a strong score that really succeeds in ramping up the tension. Working alongside the agreeable melodramatic music are some stunning, slick visuals. British Cinematographer Barry Stone makes intelligent use of the attractive Korean landscapes, capturing the sun-kissed countryside with glee from one attractively composed frame to the next. The more stylised night scenes make good use of coloured artificial lighting, lending the film production values that outweigh its apparently small budget.
Director Jung-won Shin does a grand job of keeping the action flowing for the most part, and eliciting some minor suspense at times. The tone is kept light but thankfully not enough to write this off as a full-on comedy.
Performances are strong and likeable throughout, with Eom shining as the beleaguered anti-hero who reluctantly resigns to try and save the day. Curiously though, perhaps partly due to the overall tone and partly due to a superficial script, it's hard to root for any of the characters or empathise with the threat they are meant to feel.
Having said that, familiar Korean themes such as loyalty and family do creep in to the script, at least attempting to add a human touch to the melodrama.
Some of the wackiness can become wearing (a character who converses with his dog; a child who "speaks" to aliens), but for the most part CHAW provides wry observational humour without descending into the level of farce that can sometimes mar Asian productions.
My only other reservations about this otherwise impressive film are the occasionally poor CGI FX, and the fact that it all sags quite heavily in the middle. Perhaps 15 minutes too long, CHAW ultimately emerges as a flawed but supremely enjoyable romp through familiar nature-runs-amuck territory.
The film is presented here uncut in anamorphic 1.78:1. Correctly framed, the presentation is a strong one that handles blacks and the vibrant colours very well. Day scenes have an amazing amount of clarity and depth, while night scenes also hold up well. As you can probably imagine, the film has no grain or print damage. Visually, it looks very similar to THE HOST with that polished, modern look - and the transfer is on a par with THE HOST's excellent UK DVD presentation too.
Korean audio is presented in two very good mixes - a 2.0 mix and a sturdy, nicely balanced 5.1 mix. The latter adds some extra oomph to the attack sequences and is therefore the way to go. Easy-to-read English subtitles are optional.
An animated main menu page leads into a static scene-selection menu which allows access to the film via 12 chapters.
The only film-related extra on the disc is a 2-minute trailer. This is windowboxed and looks like it may have been an early viral trailer. Still, it's entertaining and paints the film in an accurately interesting light.
The disc is defaulted to open with trailers for WHITEOUT, THE ARMY OF CRIME and a laughable-looking rip-off of THE MATRIX from Russia entitled THE INTERCEPTOR.
CHAW is a highly engaging, occasionally exhilarating slice of drama that dips its wick equally into the realms of horror and comedy. It's inevitable that the film will be compared to THE HOST and this is unfortunate because the latter is the better of the two. But CHAW is solid entertainment in it's own right, loaning heavily from Spielberg (elements of JAWS and JURASSIC PARK in particular) while nodding towards classic Western motifs along the way.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Optimum Home Entertainment|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|