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THE TIGER

Nov 09, 2020
  • Writerby Pierce Conran
  • View641

2015
 | 139 MIN | Epics/Historical
DIRECTOR PARK Hoon-jung
CAST CHOI Min-shik, JUNG Man-sik, KIM Sang-ho
RELEASE DATE December 16, 2015
CONTACT Contents Panda
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After scoring a significant hit and cementing his status as a major director with the gangster saga New World (2013), PARK Hoon-jung set his sights on what remains his biggest and most ambitious project to date - the period hunting epic The Tiger (2015). Featuring CHOI Min-shik in his first post-Roaring Currents (2014) leading role and with demanding special effects, the film starts as a rugged chronicle of a Korean hunter dealing with changing times during the Japanese Colonial Era before turning into a mythical and allegorical tale of the fall of a Korean symbol.

Man-duk (CHOI Min-shik) is a veteran hunter living in Jiri Mountain in Southern Korea with his wife and child. Around the time of the end of the Joseon Kingdom, when Korea came under the control of the Japanese Colonial Empire, Man-duk loses his wife and gradually turns into a drunk. In the 1920s, Japanese forces start to systemically eradicate all the tigers on the peninsula, as they try to stamp out the proud Korean symbol. Now they are left with a single, fearsome beast – the legendary ‘Mountain God’ of Jiri. 

Man-duk’s former fellow hunters, led by Goo-gyung (JUNG Man-sik), work with the Japanese to track the legendary beast, but ultimately, Man-duk is the only man who is truly up to the task. As Man-duk, who shares history and a special bond with the animal, shakes away his grief and puts aside the drink, the story of a grizzled hunter and Korea’s last tiger unfolds.

Those looking for historical veracity may need to adjust their expectations here. The Tiger (2015) takes its starting point from the fact that Japanese forces were responsible for the disappearance of Korea’s last remaining tigers, but beyond that, the story indulges in quite a bit of historical revisionism. The story is best viewed as an allegory for Korea’s difficult transition from being a proud kingdom into a colony, and later a divided nation and pawn for anticommunist political forces in the West.

Though the story squeezes emotional stakes out of the relationship between Man-duk and his son (not to mention the Mountain God and his slain cubs), the real heart of the film comes in its moments of magical realism, when the unspoken bond between Man-duk and the tiger manifests itself. The deliberate, fantastical nature of this bond comes together thanks to the considerable talents of the production staff, which include impressive visual effects by 4th Creative Party, epic vistas within LEE Mo-gae’s cinematography and an elegiac score by CHO Young-wook.

As the gruff, salt of the earth Man-duk, CHOI Min-shik is ideally cast, while JUNG Man-sik, as the complicated, vengeful Goo-gyung, also impresses in what was the biggest role of his career at that point. Meanwhile, KIM Sang-ho complements them well with a softer and more genial member of the hunting group.

In its attempts to stitch together a large thematic tapestry, The Tiger (2015) occasionally misses a thread and there are some leaps of logic to be found, yet PARK’s swing-for-the-fences approach is all in service of telling a grand story about the indomitable Korean spirit.
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