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The Tiger: An Old Hunter's Tale - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2015

Action, Drama

Park Hoon-jeong

Choi Min-sik
Jeong Man-sik
Seong Yoo-bin
Kim Sang-ho
Ren Osugi
Jeong Seok-won
Kim Hong-pa
Ra Mi-ran

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The Tiger: An Old Hunter's Tale

The Tiger: An Old Hunter's Tale - Film Screenshot 1

Story: It's the year 1925 and the Japanese reign over Korea. Cheon Man-deok (Choi Min-sik) is a hunter who lives on the Jirisan. The mountain is worshipped by Koreans as is the giant tiger living there that is also regarded as the god of the mountain by some people. Man-deok has given up hunting since he lost his wife on a hunt and instead picks herbs which he sells in town. His son Seok (Seong Yoo-bin) isn't happy with this life and rather would like to join the hunters around Goo-gyeong (Jeong Man-sik) who are paid by the Japanese government and therefore lead a much better life. Governor Maezono (Ren Osugi) wants to wipe out all tigers and wolves on the Jirisan, but he has found his master in the giant tiger living there. Numerous hunters have been torn apart trying to kill the animal. But now the tiger's female and cubs have been shot and with their carcasses the hunters hope to lead the tiger into a trap. However, the tiger proves to be extremely sharp and moreover has also become more aggressive because of his family having been killed off. No one is a match for him. Only Man-deok could slay it, but he refuses to do so, especially since he shares a special bond with the animal.

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The Tiger: An Old Hunter's Tale - Film Screenshot 4

Review: My interest in this movie, which deals with a hunter who follows into the footsteps of Ahab and maybe doesn't hunt Moby Dick, but a giant tiger instead, was quite low to be honest. The 140 minutes running time is also rather off-putting. But "The Tiger" is completely different and also a lot more than you might assume at first. The fact that a tiger is actually portraying the main character of the story, next to Choi Min-sik, and that this actually works out should say a lot about the quality of this flick. Apart from the at times philosophical depth and the special relationship between the two protagonists it's also impressive that the tiger can also be seen as the spirit of the country which isn't intimidated by the colonizing Japanese. Thankfully, the movie lacks any nationalistic tone, though, which makes this allegory work on a more subtle level and also have a stronger impact.

The Tiger: An Old Hunter's Tale - Film Screenshot 5

It's truely amazing how authentic the tiger has been animated on the computer. Most importantly, it's not like we get to see him only every now and then on screen. We constantly see him leap and scurry across the screen and it never looks cheap. Not just that, but director Park Hoon-jeong ("New World") even manages to bestow a soul upon the tiger. Just like Man-deok the tiger also has a background story and during one of the many flashbacks it turns out that the two hunters have also run into each other before. And although both of them are responsible for the death of a family member of the other it's not hatred for one another that unites the two, but mutual respect and a code of honor and ethics that has become a thing of the past for the hunters working under the Japanese.

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This relationship between the two protagonists makes "The Tiger" so extraordinary. Normally, a shallow revenge story would form an invisible bond between the two hunters. But here, we can in fact relate to the tiger. Despite him tearing apart his enemies literally in the air, he is not a monster killing without a reason, so that it needs to be taken down, but simply an animal that tries to survive. Granted, the way it takes out an entire army of hunters even makes you believe that this animal might actually be a god-like being after all, but the story leaves no doubt that the tiger is more of a force of nature than anything else. And since it is completely unnecessary to hunt down the poor animal we can barely have any pity for the hunters dropping like flies.

The Tiger: An Old Hunter's Tale - Film Screenshot 7

Man-deok on the other hand is an old-school hunter. He takes what the mountain offers him, even if he has to fight for it. But not anymore. Like the tiger this makes him one of the last of his kind. Man-deok also has a tragic background story, which shows us why he is sort of a broken man. Choi Min-sik ("The Admiral: Roaring Currents", "I Saw the Devil") as usual manages to add some extra layers to his role, but luckily the screenplay also provides him with a few facets. The other characters are interestingly elaborated as well. Because aside from the Japanese General, whose fanatic hunt is getting preposterous, it's not easy to pinpoint a villain. Fitting this description best is maybe the hunter played by Jeong Man-sik ("A Hard Day"), but at least at one point he manages to make us sympathize with him.

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With its many flashbacks the story has enough material to offer for things to be moving forward at all times and never becoming boring. Still, some scenes are actually drawn out too much so that the long running time isn't really justfied. The pictures, however, are beyond reproach. The mountain and the nature being part of it almost becomes a protagonist on their own and the wonderful snowy landscape with some red dots in it, after the tiger has been on a killing spree, are a feast for the eyes. A nice soundtrack underlines the events very aptly and although you might argue that a few scenes are maybe a bit too sappy they still work out perfectly. Particularly the ending is emotionally engaging and once more attests to the wonderful achievement of "The Tiger" to present an epic story whose alleged antagonists are after all kindred spirits.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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