Recently released on Blu-ray by Well Go USA Entertainment is the Korean drama The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale, an expertly crafted and touching tale that has a great deal of depth yet is truly epic in its scale. Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1925, it is about an old and experienced hunter and his connection to the last Korean tiger that is being hunted down by Japanese soldiers and a group of local hunters.
The story may sound quite simple, but it is actually deeply layered and goes beyond just a tiger being hunted. There are multiple themes examine love, the relationship between a father and his children, respecting nature, Korean traditions and their cultural history, war and pacifism. An underlying theme in this is that the tiger represents more than just an animal; he is symbolic of the Korean nation and their unity in standing up against the invading Japanese. It was written and directed by Hoon-jung Park, who wrote the screenplay for I Saw the Devil as well as his 2013 film New World. Both should be considered must sees.
The direction and cinematography are absolutely stunning. Taking place in a mountainous region located in the southern part of South Korea, there are many breathtaking and grand scenic shots during both the winter and fall seasons. The camera angles, placement, and movement are all expertly crafted. There is also a good mix of various close ups, overhead, and dolly shots that when combined with the editing make a masterful combination. Cinematographer Mo-gae Lee delivers once again, as he has done before with I Saw the Devil, The Good, the Bad, the Weird, and countless other pictures.
The period costumes and set designs are all finely crafted. The special effects and makeup are decent for the most part. There are a few sequences in which the tiger doesn’t look as realistic as it had in other parts, mostly when it involves running at a fast speed. However, it’s hard not to expect a non-Hollywood movie to do any better than what they were able to achieve. The score from veteran composer Yeong-wook Jo is powerful and helps ramp up the tension, with its use of drums and deep horns. It adds onto the grand scale that is already being presented visually.
The acting is superb, with essentially four main characters. Min-sik Choi portrays the old hunter and gives a powerful performance both physically and emotionally. He is probably best known for starring in Oldboy, but has shown throughout his career an ability to play vastly different roles. Man-sik Jeong is terrific as another hunter, whose obsession with killing the tiger is similar to Ahab in Moby Dick. Jung Suk Won plays a Japanese soldier with a Korean heritage, and is really the only Japanese character that is any more than one-dimensional. The last really big star is the tiger, which despite being CGI has a very distinct personality and conveys a wide range of emotions. I don’t think this motion picture would have been as poignant without his depth.While it is a drama, there is a great deal of action and significant amount violence. These scenes are reminiscent of a period war film except that they are battling a tiger and not an opposing army. If you haven’t watched any Korean pictures, now is an excellent time to start. They have been consistently delivering quality work for at least the past ten years, with most of it far exceeding what is being churned out by Hollywood.
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