I am always thankful for the relatively good number of Korean films and TV series Netflix Canada has to offer. When I saw The Tiger had arrived, a 2015 movie with one of Korea’s best actors – Choi Min-Sik – I decided that would be my Saturday night. Of course, my wife was on board. She’s also a fan of Mr. Choi.
In this movie, set during Japan’s brutal occupation of Korea in the early 20th century, Choi plays a renowned hunter, now retired and raising his teenage son on his own. The Japanese governor of the region is a big proponent of hunting – with his office festooned with stuffed examples – and wants the last tiger in Korea killed. In translation, the reason for this is hazy, but it likely has something to do with breaking Korean pride – Korea sometimes links itself to the tiger. In any case, this sets in motion a series of events leading to the promised confrontation of man and animal within the beautiful but brutal precincts of Jiri Mountain.
As a fan and owner of a DVD copy of The Ghost and the Darkness, I went into this with some expectations. Don’t do that. This is a great movie, a really enjoyable experience, but it is a fable. This movie creates a myth. Whereas The Ghost and the Darkness tried to show the terror of nature at it is, the Tiger shows the majesty of nature as many in Korea understood it. There is an indigenous shamanic belief system/religion which I understand to posit every living thing has a spirit, and one must view this movie with that in mind. I attended a couple of celebrations of mountain gods when I lived in Korea, but my knowledge of the actual belief system is nil, so I’m probably misrepresenting this and for that I apologize.
This movie is as much opera as it is cinema. The tiger acts as no real tiger would, and I saw the “Mountain Lord” – as he is known – as an embodiment of the spirit of the mountain. Is this an allusion, a meditation on pride, despair, and expectation? Sure, or it’s Jaws on a mountain with a tiger instead of a shark. However, whereas the terror of Jaws was in its unthinking, unfeeling antagonist, the Tiger presents nature personified. Think of what we’ve done to it and you might not be surprised that nature is pissed.
I enjoyed this movie for Choi’s amazing performance (pretty much a given), the great locale (my wife and I visited Jirisan in February, just before we got married), and the willingness of the director to provide a moving tale that has a wealth of meaning and thought swimming below the surface. If you want to watch a movie about a super-tiger and the tired old man who may be the only one who can kill it, enjoy! If you want to meditate about the subtext, there’s plenty here to chew on.
I give the Tiger 4.75 tooth and claw fodder foot soldiers out of 5. This is a great looking, pensive movie with streaks of violence and emotion and a stellar cast. This is a definite recommend, especially if you love thoughtful movies, exciting movies, and bombastic movies. This one’s got all that.