With bigger budgets and increasingly better technical knowhow, Korean filmmakers are no longer shying away from epics, and the latest one to grace screens is the ambitious Colonial Era hunting saga The Tiger. Pitting a CGI tiger against one of Korea’s most respected stars (Choi Min-sik), this third film from New World (2013) director Park Hoon-jung adds a strong element of nationalism to the sweeping vistas of the Jirisan National Park against which the narrative unfolds.
Boasting exceptional technical specs, The Tiger screams to be seen on the big screen, but not everyone will be taken in by this 140-minute, at times clunky metaphor for Korean grit and spirit against a cartoonishly single-minded oppressor (the Japanese army). Much of the second act is taken up by unnecessary table-setting and the relationship between hunter and beast crosses the line into pure fantasy before long.
Yet, in its best moments, Park’s film skilfully blends spectacle and gravitas, which is in no small part owed to Choi’s determined and severe hunter, as he traipses through the punishing wintry wild. At first only seen zipping behind trees, the CGI tiger comes into glorious full focus later on, though some side (animal) characters don’t receive nearly the same treatment.
Director Park may have bitten off more than he can chew with his latest, but he’s also crafted some of the most memorable images of the year and delivered a sweeping tale of period violence, which could be seen as Korea’s answer to Hollywood Oscar hopeful The Revenant.
BY: PIERCE CONRAN (PRODUCER AT 2Mr FILMS, FILM CRITIC)