THE TIGER: AN OLD HUNTER’S TALE (2015)
Directed by Park Hoon-jung
Korean Language with English Subtitles
A Japanese Government Official with a penchant for animal furs will stop at nothing until he returns home to Japan with the pelt of the Mountain Lord; the last great Korean Tiger. With local hunters struggling to pin the cunning tiger down, their greatest chance of success lies with retired hunter turned herb gatherer Man-duk. Can they convince the old hunter to return for one final hunt?
Set in 1925, this fascinating tale of national pride, respect, spirituality and family is rivetingly represented in the form of a man vs elusive wild beast movie in which a group of grizzly Korean hunters are willing to turn over their majestic tiger in exchange for glory, greed and acknowledgement from a country that sees them as a sub-species. The tiger may be the one being hunted, even though he’s far too cunning to be caught using the usual methods, but the ones with the most to loose are the hunters themselves who are essentially selling their soul. This plays out in a cat and mouse chase as the hunters are ordered to catch the wild tiger but with such a huge specimen of a wild cat as the Mountain Lord, who’s not shy about sharpening his claws and clamping his jaws around a human, it proves a harder task than expected with the hunters occasionally finding themselves as the prey. Having nothing to do with their plans is Man-duk who’s sole reason for living is his son Suk-yi, having left his hunting days behind him after the death of his wife. With Suk-yi nagging about becoming a hunter like he was and wanting to join the quest to take down the Mountain Lord, Man-duk attempts to distance himself further from the hunters and plan for a different future for his son rather than experience the one he had.
THE TIGER is a visual splendour from beginning to end. The snow falling amidst the isolated forest as orange and black stripes stalk the wilderness is truly something to behold. Whilst the landscape shots will take your breath away, it’s the CGI of the tiger that will no doubt get you talking. Never have I before seen CGI crafted so lifelike for animals before. granted, Life of Pi‘s tiger was a pretty decent effort but I’d say the Mountain Lord seen here has more attitude, depth and raw primal instincts about it, from the clot of its fur right down to the blood splattered jaws. Even watching it walking away, its hind leg joints and back moving so lifelike, it’s easy to convince yourself that this is indeed a real life tiger. Whilst there may be a few humanised emotions to this tiger than what would be actually believable, it fits in with the fantasy fable style which THE TIGER is going for. Though the story itself may be fictional and fantastical at times, the culling of tigers during the Japanese colonisation was unfortunately very real.
By the end of the film, I found myself welling up, tears rolling down my face; something I’m not afraid to admit even if I’ve now lost all street cred with my fellow HCF writers. THE TIGER: AN OLD HUNTER’S TALE is definitely one that pulls at the heartstrings and although it features some rather sad moments, the spirit and respect it represents in others is what is really overwhelming. After all, this tiger is more than just an animal; it represents the spirit of Korea under Japanese occupation, a spirit that shall not be destroyed or broken by their hand. A spirit that will go out fighting until its last breath.
After fully enjoying his mafia movie NEW WORLD, THE TIGER: AN OLD HUNTER’S TALE has converted me into a fan of Park Joon-jung’s work with such style and substance offered through his movies that even the most basic of stories is an absolute delight to watch. His choice of working with Oldboy‘s Min-sik Choi, first on New World and now again here as he plays Man-duk, is casting at its finest with Choi effortlessly providing emotional bulk to a story with a character that says very few words.
An absolutely mesmerising tale.