Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale

It is sort of like Life of Pi, but with a massive body count. An old hunter and a legendary one-eyed tiger share a spiritual link, but it is more about their bitter shared experiences than New Age enlightenment. Inevitably, their intertwined fates come down to one last hunt in Park Hoon-jung’s The Tiger (trailer here), which releases today on DVD and BluRay from Well Go USA.

The legendary “Mountain God” has prowled Jirisan for years. He was sort of involved with the death of Chun Man-duk’s wife and the hunter similarly had a hand in the death of the tiger’s mate. Hunting Joseon tigers was once of viable option for the hardscrabble mountain folk, but the local commander of the Japanese occupying force has declared war on the big cats, partly out of misplaced zeal for big game and partly to eradicate the symbol of Joseon nationalism. However, that Mountain God is one elusive beast.

Naturally, Chun will soon have ever greater reasons to resume his grudge against the Mountain God, but he finds the unsportsmanlike hunt distasteful and is disinclined to do the occupiers’ bidding. Goo-gyeong is probably the second most skilled hunter on the mountain and he holds no such reservations. Unfortunately, his gambit to lure Chun to the hunt will yield bitter fruit.

When crack Japanese troops reinforce the hunt, Chun’s tiger arguably become the fiercest freedom fighter in Korean history. Frankly, Park’s film is a little slow out of the blocks, but when the Mountain God gets ticked off, it becomes a ripping (most literally) good time. The ironic parallels between Chun and the tiger are also strong enough to give the film significant heft, but are not excessively heavy-handed in a way that would mire the film in self-importance.

Nobody can top Choi Min-sik (Oldboy, New World, Nameless Gangster) for stone cold steeliness, which he brings in spades once again as Chun. Yet, this time around, Jeong Man-sik’s Goo-gyeong might be an even badder cat. While Kim Sang-ho has had his somewhat shticky supporting turns, he is refreshingly gritty as Goo-gyeong’s hunting mate, Chil-goo. He still might be a tad high-strung, but he’s entitled.

There are glaring CGI moments in The Tiger, but most of the action scenes are quite well realized. Altogether, it is quite a potent mixture of blood, guts, tragedy, and mysticism. It also effectively scores environmental points through an appeal to nationalism (ironically, the Korean-Siberian tiger population has reportedly rebounded on the peninsula, in the DMZ of all places). Recommended for fans who enjoy outdoors survival tales (with an emphasis on action), The Tiger is now available for home viewing, from Well Go USA.