Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
In 1925, Korea, former legendary hunter Chun Man-duk (Choi Min-sik) is retired and lives in a hut with his son Seok (Sung Yoo-bin) living off of what Mt. Jirisan provides. Japanese soldiers have taken over the land and high government official Maezono (Ren Osugi), who is an avid huntsman and tiger skin collector, has his sights set on slaying the one-eyed Mountain Lord and last living tiger in Korea that also resides on Mt. Jirisan. Korean hunters are hired by the Maezono to bring in the seemingly immortal beast, but even head Korean hunter Gu-kyung (Jung Man-sik) is unable to stay on the tiger’s trail. Their only hope is to bring in Chun Man-duk, who is very adamant about never hunting again.
It’s incredibly easy to describe director Park Hoon-jung’s (writer of I Saw the Devil and writer/director of New World) The Tiger as South Korea’s answer to The Revenant, but it’s also completely unfair. Both films have something to say about viciousness and survival, but The Tiger has more of a connection between a single man and an unstoppable beast. Imagine two sides of the same coin with one side being guilt and the other being supremacy. The Tiger is this ten-year power struggle between a man and a lord.
The period drama film is overflowing with gorgeous scenery. Natural extreme elements are portrayed with beauty as blankets of snow are draped across mountainous terrain littered with frosted forests. Tree branches and snow bounce off the camera as it zooms in for a closer shot. You often see the perspective of the tiger as it dashes through the forest and as he tears limbs and flesh off of Japanese soldiers.
The acting is also superb. Choi Min-sik is one of the most talented South Korean actors working today as his emotional spectrum is unbelievably vast and he has this uncanny ability to make a scene intense with absolute ease. Kim Sang-ho, who portrays a Korean hunter named Chil-Goo that works with Gu-kyung, nearly steals the show from the rest of the supporting cast. Kim’s facial expressions are quite entertaining, but the Chil-Goo character is overwhelmingly compassionate and that bleeds through in Kim’s performance. There is this underlying treacherous quality to the Japanese soldiers. They’ve already overrun Korea, so they’re not exactly admired to begin with but Maezono’s hell-bent obsession along with Jung Suk-won’s Ryu, who is a soldier that answers directly to Maezono, will stop at nothing to obtain the skin of this beast even if they have to take all of Korea with them.
At first, The Tiger seems like a drama that is purposely attempting to depress you. There’s a reason for so much loss in the film and there’s meaning behind the savage violence featured in the film. The Tiger takes nearly two and a half hours to even the playing field between two lousy chess players. Both sides lose everything before they eventually confront one another. There are shades of Joe Carnahan’s The Grey here as neither creature will stop until one or both of them are dead.
The Tiger is a beautifully shot and exquisitely brutal ordeal with an exceptional performance from the impeccable Choi Min-sik. Director Park Hoon-jung has masterfully crafted a face-off between two formidable opponents with a heartfelt history that digs deep.
The Tiger (2016)
© 2016 Chris Sawin