Tuesday, June 29, 2010

NYAFF 2010: "Chaw"

* Chaw (dir. Shin Jung-won, 2009, Korea). I dug Chaw, plain and simple. I'd heard wildly divergent reviews going into it — how trippy it is, how confusing, how it would help to be stoned whilst watching it (true for many, but not all, films), how it just wasn't that good. I'm setting the record straight: it's dope. For those who disagree, you need to see it again. You must have missed something. The core plot is simple: excessive poaching and razing of land (for golf courses, organic farming for city slickers, etc) has driven a few mountain-dwelling wild boars to take extreme tactics, exhuming graves and thereby developing an affinity for human flesh. Seoul-based officer Kim (Uhm Tae-Woong, getting all sorts of shit thrown at him from all sides but ceaselessly trying to act professional throughout) and family are relocated to sleepy countryside village, Sameri, where the king boar and his clan have begun attacking people (seen from the boar's perspective, this glassy, red-eyed convex world). Kim is quickly thrust into assisting the keystone-capersesque local law enforcement (aided by a kleptomaniacal, perennially sunglassed detective) in tracking the beastie whilst keeping everything on the DL, so as not to scare the city-slicker organic farmers away. Tack on two "star" hunters, one a grizzled old man and the other a ponytailed hotshot w/ serious women issues and the passionate, kooky biologist Su-ryeon (Jeong Yu-Mi) and that's the plot, in a nutshell. But from minute like 5, when the aforementioned cops go tumbling ad nauseam down a hillside, to the rather stoned mayor, to the bizarre back-and-forth banter and Seoul rappers and Kim sucking it all up and carrying on, you might forget there is a man-eating, van-sized boar on the loose. If this were an American film, mark my words, the "star" hunters and crew would have found the beastie, probably one or both of them would have died trying to shoot at it, there would have been egos thrown around and it would have quickly dovetailed into a gory, boring mess. The most disturbing, overtly violent moments (in my opinion) occur less than 30 minutes in, before we even get a clear shot of the beastie. There are loads other jump-scenes that follow, but once the majority of the bloodshed is out of the way, director Shin focuses more on ethics, from both the old hunter (a guilt for aiding in the slaughter of native animals) and the young biologist (she finds the boar's brood in a cave and takes one of the piglets, unable to kill it). There is a moment too, late in the film, where Kim and Yu-Mi lead the boar away from the village, using its piglet as bait (preceded by an absolutely ridiculous, video game-ish ride on a minecart — OK so there are MANY doped-up moments like this), and we get a quick glimpse from the piglet's POV, staring at its massive, snuffling parent, sharing a moment. It was precisely here that I got it: there is more going on here, beyond all the wacked-out incidents and black humor. The natural order of life was interrupted, and the consequences were inevitable. I won't give away the denouement but I don't feel too terrible for the majority of the humans. And I'd totally watch Chaw again.
Next screening: Thu, July 1, 1:15p (Walter Reade Theatre)