With a thick, foul, saliva-drenched tongue squelched deep inside a hog-like cheek, Chaw presents a quirky and bizarre slice of Korean comedy horror that, whilst proving enjoyable enough, fails to deliver its full potential, due to an over-extended running time and rambling, unfocussed direction. Indeed, only in the last twenty minutes or so do we really feel that the long and inconsistent build-up is bearing fruit, and by then, it’s simply too late.
Whilst Jeong-won Shin continues his comedy-horror style approach after 2004’s Sisily 2km, any hint of comedy is sadly bereft in the opening sequences, where stock footage of grisly animal “trophies” and general hunting activity seeks to disrupt the viewers’ sensibilities. Whilst Lenzi or Deodato would presumably be wiping a tear from their eyes in pride at this approach, including the scene where a live fish is dropped into a pan of hot soup to flap around in agony, it proves misleading for the more light-hearted approach of this mainly bloodless massacre, and the discomfort delivered by these scenes is an unwelcome distraction from the overall picture.
What’s far more enjoyable is the straightforward and often subtle humour that forms the lifeblood of the piece. Police Officer Kim (Tae-woong Eom) is a Seoul-based cop whose daily beat is a predictably busy and heated experience. When submitting an application form for his next posting, his “second choice” location in which he decides to scribble “anywhere” proves to be an amusing but costly error when, to his horror, he discovers that he has been posted in the self-touted “Crimeless Village” of Sam-Mae-Ri, where little happens and the local police force focus on keeping the rich “city folk” happy. The tranquillity is about to be shattered though as a desecrated grave is discovered, with the entire body missing save for the head. Cue the discovery of an enormous rampaging wild boar, and the stage is set for a journey into the heart of the beast’s lair to rid the countryside of the deadly animal menace.
As is typical of Korean cinema, the production quality is very high, with strong performances, sharp and precise filming, and rich visuals of the beautiful forest scenery. The partially CGI’d beast is well presented and fairly convincing as it gallops through the countryside, and there are some delightfully creative moments. Take the section where an elder describes the construction of a trap to crush the beast under a pile of rocks; as he describes the building of the structure to a listening group, his thoughts are manifested graphically on-screen to the viewer in the darkness to his left – it’s a brief but refreshing touch.
It’s perhaps the proliferation of imagination and ideas that proves detrimental to the continuity and consistency though. For starters, we feel saturated by characters, all with differing motives; it’s not just Officer Kim chasing the beast, but also the famous hunter Baek, the Jane Goodall obsessed student Su-ryeon, amongst many others. And some characters, whilst delivering acceptable comic value, feel extraneous to the plot. This includes Kim’s crazy and often hilarious mother, the insane forest lady with a young son and plastic baby, and the imported, soulless Finnish super-hunter. With a relatively straight-forward storyline, it seems that stuffing the picture full of colourful characters has pushed the movie beyond its natural length, and some shrewd and brutal editing would have served the end product well. The existing result is one where the volume of ideas, characters, and plot nuances means that we receive no tangible sense of climax, and the eventual, inevitable showdown with the drooling pig looses what could have been a substantial impact.
Jeong-won Shin is a talented director who delivers a product of substantial quality, but without a shorter, snappier delivery and plot consistency, films such as Chaw will always feel bloated and lacking the necessary punch for this brand of comedy horror. Nevertheless, the production values and strong performances on display here mean that, if you can tolerate the extended running time and uneven pacing, then there is enough meat on the bone to provide a satisfying horror meal.
The Disc comes encoded for region 2, and is presented in 1.85:1, so expect small black bars above and below the image. The quality of the transfer is excellent; there is no noise or distortion evident. Colours are invariably strong and rich, which is beneficial for the glorious shots of the lush scenery, and the blacks hold the suitable depth and definition required when the beast interrupts the night-time tranquillity. The speed of the action sometimes presents blurring and a lack of definition, but it’s a small gripe for what is a well-presented picture.
There are English subtitles, which are clearly presented on the screen in white, and never disturb the action nor blend into white backgrounds. The translation is generally decent enough, but some sentences seem to be slightly less than optimal as the resultant meanings can come across as a little flat or diluted. Without understanding the original Korean dialogue, it’s difficult to deduce if this is an issue with the script or the translation, but my guess is the latter.
Sound is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, and is free of unwanted distortion or hiss. Character voices are clear and distinct. The rumblings and growling of the beast lack, perhaps, a little impact, but overall there are no problems here.
Extras are thin, with a trailer of the film being the only item to report.
With Far East horror often being rather stylised and typical, it’s refreshing to see a comedy horror picture with a slightly different theme. Running something like a Korean Razorback, the largely bloodless document of a rampaging beast chooses humour as much as horror as its main vehicle. The chosen sequence of events will prove frustrating, and there’s a saturation of characters and ideas that spoil the flow of the piece; the fact that there is a real dearth of extras too doesn’t assist the cause. Overall though, it’s enjoyable enough, and the quality of the production, performances, and delivery means that you could do a lot worse than check out this humorous hog-based horror.