Chawz (2009)

JUNE 30, 2011


Well, you can’t really accuse Chawz of “ripping off” Jaws, because they’re pretty upfront with its influence (though the original title is Chaw or Chawu; I guess they tossed a Z on to really hammer it in). Tae-Woong Eom’s hero is pretty much a younger version of Martin Brody, a small town cop tagging along with experts as they hunt down a monster even though you know it will ultimately come down to him vs. the monster. They even have a more or less direct remake of the “I think we captured the wrong one” scene, right down to cutting the mistakenly captured animal to see if any of his human victims were in the stomach, not yet digested.

But the movie pays homage to a variety of flicks, and thus it’s not so much a “Jaws with a boar” movie as a sort of smorgasbord of geek faves, not unlike Doomsday or Attack The Block. Eom’s character arc takes as much from Hot Fuzz (Pegg’s character) as Brody, as he is relocated to a quiet “crimeless” town after getting into trouble in the city for being too good at his job, and the goofy police squad antics in the middle of what is kind of a grim story reminded me of The Untold Story, albeit without chopsticks. Hell they even take a page from Beowulf at one point, with the boar rampaging around a tavern during a celebration, seeking to get back its baby (so it’s Jaws 3 too!).

Luckily, the movie’s focus on humor over actual horror keeps the lifts from being annoying. I doubt director Jeong-won Shin would deny any of his influences if asked about them – he’s clearly just out to make a fun film that pays homage to films he digs, and as long as you’re on board with the humor, you should have fun too. There’s just enough giant boar action to satisfy monster movie fans, and the blend of CGI and puppet (I think?) is far more successful than most modern films of the genre.

However, if the humor doesn’t work for you, then you should steer far clear. I chuckled and smiled a lot, but the movie’s 122 minute length is nearly unforgivable at times. There are a pair of female characters in the movie that serve no purpose whatsoever – one a crazy local who wants to be a mother to a child that’s not hers, and the other Eom’s mother, also rather insane. Cutting one or both of them out entirely wouldn’t really effect the story in the slightest, and would singlehandedly get the movie down to a more manageable 105 minutes or so. And many other scenes could use trimming; there’s a bit near the end where the heroes are using a railcar to escape the rampaging boar, which is exciting and fun at first but feels like it runs twice the length it should. Then again, maybe I’m just sensitive after having suffered through Transformers 3, where every single scene in the movie either should have been cut in half or cut entirely.

But what made it work for me was the likable characters. In another reference of a sort, it’s kind of like a Lake Placid (or pretty much any Michael Crichton adventure) team, with a hunter, a cop, a state official, a wildlife expert, and a badass ultimately joining up to hunt down the monster, each with their own motives (“Study it!” “A hunting challenge!” “Protect the town!”, etc), But unlike most films with this setup, all of them are likable and get along. One of the better joke scenes involves the wildlife expert wanting to film everything for a documentary, and she doesn’t catch a crucial discovery on camera, so she asks them to “do it again”. You’d expect one of them to be like “I don’t have time for this nonsense”, but they all happily oblige, ridiculously overacting for the camera and seemingly have a grand ole time. And this has another perk – it’s actually kind of hard to tell which of the others will die. You know how in Jaws you can pretty much guess that Quint will die, Brody will live, and then Hooper is the only wild card? Well this has at least three such wild cards, and the only guy I thought for sure would get killed ended up being sidelined for most of the boar action. So you end up with a movie like Tremors, where it’s not about whittling down the cast but making everyone well-rounded and likable enough that you want them to live. As with Jaws, the body count ends up being pretty low, but there’s a lot of near-miss action to enjoy (which Jaws didn’t really have besides Hooper in the cage).

Oddly, the Korean film was shot mostly in the outskirts of San Francisco (there are even a few American characters speaking English; it’s actually kind of jarring to hear something you comprehend after 30-40 minutes of a foreign language), so I am kind of bummed I watched the film on a screener instead of a real DVD, as I’d probably enjoy watching the making of that’s on the release disc. Our productions are always going around the world to shoot, but it’s much less often that foreign productions come to the US – guess they don’t have very good woods in Korea. The DVD also has some deleted scenes, thus putting an end to my internal debate over whether or not the movie even had an editor.

Oh but I kid Chawz! It may be a little rough around the edges, and Shin may need a producer that can rein him in a bit (though, excessive as it may be, the “turn to camera and smile” end credits were awesome), but at least it’s a coherent movie without any ghosts whatsoever, which makes it a true anomaly for K-horror.

What say you?


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