TROUBLE CITY

31 FLAVORS OF HORROR #7: CHAW (2009) v. PIG HUNT (2009).

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  Movies about giant killer pigs are not a common occurrence, but every continent seems to have one.  The best-known feature in the genre is probably 1984's Razorback, an Australian movie from the director of Highlander.  I haven't seen that one recently enough to confidently write about it, and I'm not sure I can do better than this, so let's look at the dark horse candidates.  (Mixing metaphors now...)  Asia's entry in the competition is Chawz and America's is called Pig Hunt.  Let's take a look at these two prize hogs and see who takes home the blue ribbon. 

Chaw, sometimes known as Chawz, is a horror-comedy from Korean director Shin Jung-Won.  Why is it called Chaw? I don’t know. Why is it also known as Chawz?  I don't know.  It’s a Korean horror-comedy. We may not need to ask such questions, because there may not be an answer. The only word we have in America that makes any sense of the word Chaw has to do with chewing tobacco, and that product has no correlation with this movie, except for the fact that somebody was probably smoking something somewhere.

Apparently, in Korea there is a very real problem with wild boars. Their territory is being encroached by development, and so as a result of these belligerent animals being displaced, there have been several incidents of farm animals, pets, and even people being attacked. 
 
So one could conceivably read Chaw as a commentary on modern events. One could do that. But why must one justify their enjoyment of a giant killer pig movie by referencing its timeliness and environmental conscience? And why must one refer to oneself as “one”?  One sounds just a little bit pretentious.  One needs to loosen up  Anyway:  Chaw.
 
The story of Chaw is blatantly, blissfully derivative. A young policeman with a ripe pregnant wife is re-assigned to a mountain village that is famously “crimeless” -- anybody else here seen Hot Fuzz? -- and of course the body count starts rising. Much like the Mayor of Amityville, the cloddish town officials are hesitant to close down the mountain, until the death toll becomes too big to ignore. At that point, they call in a big game hunter (who looks like All-Star ex-Yankee Hideki Matsui), and a super-team of monster-trackers hits the trail.
 
Most of the movie’s action is cribbed from Jaws, almost shockingly brazenly so, although there are direct swipes from Aliens, Predator, the aforementioned Razorback, Sleepy Hollow (!), and Jurassic Park (the whole bit with the footsteps causing water to ripple). 
 
It’s most like Jaws, only doubled and enhanced – the young scientist character that we Americans remember Richard Dreyfuss for is recast here as a cute chick (an improvement). The pony-tailed Matsui hunter guy isn’t the only Quint-like character in Chaw -- there’s also an old recluse with a personal vendetta against the beast --  but he's the most memorable one because he has much weirder quirks than stewing shark jaws and scratching chalkboards. What I’m telling you is that he talks to his dogs. What I’m really telling you is that his dogs talk to him. His pair of hunting dogs, Mighty and Mickey, get killed by the giant boar, and then later appear in hallucinations and demand revenge.
 
I’m going to stop here and declare that if you’re not at all interested in a Korean remake of Jaws that swaps out the shark for a giant killer pig and has a talking ghost dog in it to boot, I don’t know what to tell you. You might be on the wrong website, and you’re most definitely reading the wrong writer. 
 
I loved this movie. It’s crazy, it’s silly, it’s way too long for what it is, it’s well-photographed, it’s sharply satirical, it’s occasionally really dumb, and it has the most bizarre and unnecessary post-script sequence in recent memory.
 
(SPOILER: After the monster pig is vanquished and the sequel is set up via a Leone-style close-up over a baby pig’s vengeance-crazed eyes, we find out what has happened to a character we previously assumed was dead. He’s trussed up and tortured in a Fatal Attraction kind of scenario by a peripheral eccentric character, which just makes one more random reference for this movie to add to its checklist.)
 
Before I got to see Chaw. I’d seen many comparisons to The Host, but Chaw is much sillier than The Host, and that's a movie which has a pretty good sense of humor to begin with. Chaw has its own anarchic sense of humor, and a giddy enthusiasm about movies in general and giant killer pigs in particular. I wish that more movies would take themselves less seriously, the way this one does. It’s a whole lot of fun.
 
 
Rating:  "Squeeeeeeeeeeee!"
 
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Meanwhile, the Americans have served up Pig Hunt, a low-budget creature feature from the director of Skinwalkers, which was a decent movie by werewolf-genre standards.  That's shorthand for saying that while I'd rather watch a werewolf movie than a Meryl Streep movie, most werewolf movies aren't very good at all.  So if Skinwalkerswas an okay movie by those standards,  it won't warrant a mention in Cahiers du Cinéma.  And Pig Hunt is actually a step backwards in the quality department. 
 
Pig Hunt stars no one I'd ever heard of, as a conspicuously diverse group of friends who leave San Francisco to go on a weekend hunting trip.  There's the main hero, just short of a redneck, his badass Asian girlfriend, a gun-crazy black guy in camo gear who wields a .44 Magnum and no discernible acting ability, a supremely dopey Filipino guy in a wool cap, and a chubby dork with the kind of frantic expression on his face that tells an audience that before movie's end, he's either going to be raped or killed.
 
The press materials for Pig Hunt advertise it as a blend of Jaws, Deliverance, and Diner.  On that last point, seriously, what the fuck?, but at least you can see what they were going for on the first two reference points.  It's just that Pig Hunt was not made on the level of craft of a Steven Spielberg or a John Boorman.  (No pun intended; he's the director of Deliverance.) Which is weird, because the problems with Skinwalkers weren't technical -- despite whatever story concerns there were, it was an accomplished, stylish movie that looked like a movie.  There are a few pretty shots, but not many, and besides, taken together the movie doesn't fit together smoothly.  Pig Hunt looks like a SyFy movie, at best.  It's not just a budgetary question.  I mean, they clearly had some money.  The giant pig looks pretty good!  That is, when the movie finally gets to him.
 
The biggest problem with Pig Hunt is pretty simple to pin down: Not enough pig.  This movie concerns itself with a whole lot of things besides a giant pig, like weed farmers, angry hicks, and dog murders, and actually seems to forget about the giant pig until the very end of the movie.  There is an awful lot of character interaction between some pretty awful stock characters before you ever get to THE THING ON THE DAMN POSTER THAT MADE A WEIRDO LIKE ME WANT TO WATCH THIS MOVIE. 
 
 
Look, if you want to make a political allegory or a social satire or whatever else somebody (such as SF critic Mick LaSalle) thought was going on in this movie, maybe it muddies the point a little bit when you punctuate it with a gigantic pig puppet.  Because ultimately, and maybe I'm just not much of a political guy, but I'd rather just see the pig puppet. 
 
I'm no Communist, but if I'm being honest, after Chaw I have to concede that Pig Hunt is only the second-best giant-boar movie released in 2009.  The Asians did it better, basically.
 
Rating:  Not so "Squeeeeeeeeeeee!"
 
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Africa, South America, Europe, and Antarctica... you guys are up.  Time to enter the intercontinental hog run.  Let's see what you guys can do with a giant pig and a movie camera.