Chaw (2009)

Chaw first published by Little White Lies

Forget the cutesy porkers of Babe (1995) or Charlotte’s Web (2006) – there is nothing quite like a really big pig to remind us of our place on the food chain. The first porcine nature’s revenger, Razorback (1984), was also the runt of the litter, but at least it had director Russell Mulcahy’s exuberant visual style to cover for its lack of substance. Next came the ecologically resonant mythology of Princess Mononoke (1997) and the Orwellian political allegory of Pig Hunt (2008) – each proving that you can make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. These last two are hard acts to follow, but then Shin Jung-won’s Chaw, the latest film to pit humans against a gigantic boar, seems more interested in wildly parodying what has come before than in rooting out new territories for itself. 

With its blend of backwoods police satire and monster mayhem, Chaw plays like the bastard lovechild of fellow Korean Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder (2003) and The Host (2006), while its very title, deriving from a Korean dialect word for ‘trap’, has evidently been chosen for its assonance with Jaws (1975), a film that has inspired a great number of its plot elements (a mayor trying to keep local deaths from the public; a smaller, captured beast mistaken for the real thing; a policeman teaming up with a scientist and a grizzled hunter, etc.) – even though Chaw is set entirely inland. Its city cop (Eom Tae-woong) posted in a supposedly sleepy ‘crimeless village’ recalls Hot Fuzz (2003), Jurassic Park (1993) is evoked when the creature’s arrival is heralded by vibrations on the surface of a liquid, and a post-credits coda offers a hilarious spin on the tropes of torture porn. 

Amidst so much knowing pastiche, to accuse the chase through a mining railway, or the climax in a disused factory, of being clichés would be to miss the point. Indeed, predictable cliché, as well as its preposterous subversion by an array of unpredictably oddball characters (including a talking dog!), would seem to be precisely the point. This is tusk-sharp stuff – although perhaps not quite enough so to warrant its duration of nearly two hours, by which time the CGI/animatronic behemoth skirts dangerously close to becoming a crashing bore… 

In brief: It may lack the primacy of Razorback (1984), the resonant mythology of Princess Mononoke (1997), or the political allegory of Pig Hunt (2008), but Chaw brings a tusk-sharp combination of pastiche, parody and parochial preposterousness to the whole giant killer boar subgenre. Think Jaws (1975), only in the Korean backwoods.

© Anton Bitel