The Tiger: An Old Hunter's Tale is set in Japanese occupied Korea during 1925. Chun Man-duk (Choi Min-sik) is a broken down hunter who was once upon a time 'the best' in the business, but quit hunting after the death of his wife. After extensive hunting by the Japanese and Koreans for fur, the tigers have been hunted to near extinction, but there's still one tiger left, the fabled "Mountain Lord" who resides on one of Korea's most revered mountains, Jirisan. The tiger is the last remaining tiger from the Joseon dynasty which ended in 1897 and has visibly endured many cruel hardships to survive to the bitter end, as the last of his species.
A Korean born Japanese soldier named Ryu (Won Jung Suk) has been tasked with bringing in the last tiger of Korea, but he has been reluctant and dragging his feet at every opportunity knowing how emblematic the tigers are to Korea's national identity and pride. However Chun Man-duk's successor, in some respects, Gu-kyung (Jeong Man-sik) bears a long-standing grudge against the "Lord of the Mountain" and won't rest until he's exacted his revenge on the tiger. Irrespective of whether it's the last one or not.
The emphasis on bringing the "Mountain Lord" to life appears to have been more mystical and mythical in its depiction, than it does on designing a realistic tiger. I imagine this was done by design and was not an accident. So to compare its realism to other similar movies that featured fully cgi animals like Life of Pi or The Revenant is to miss the point of this awe-inspiring and ferocious tiger. Not to mention it was probably brought to life on a tenth of the budget that the other similar movies have had to play with. So the cgi is pretty dodgy in a couple of places, the compositing needed some fine-tuning here and there, but overall the cgi was solid. And even though the cgi was noticeable quite often, I still had a lot of feelings for the computer rendered creations. So I'd say it was a job well done, considering.
By focusing on the most legendary aspects of the tiger and by giving it an almost anthropological sense, Park Hoon-jung (director + writer) makes it easy to sympathize with the man eater. Not only that, but because the tiger conveys such an abnormally strong sense of pride, honor and courage, it fills the movie with a strong sense of the supernatural, surrealism and symbolism which makes it feel more like a fable come to life more than it does anything else. The atmosphere of The Tiger felt brimming with spiritualism and even animism. The tiger is such a totemic and symbolic animal to Korea's national identity that one has to wonder if the tiger was used symbolically here to represent the Korean peoples resistance to Japanese occupation at the time. Maybe it was, in part, but it was also loosely factual as well, though it was obviously romanticized a great deal.
There were a lot of similarities between "The Tiger" and "Moby Dick" too, especially concerning one character and the poignant ending. There were also a lot of parallels between the "Mountain Lord" and Chun Man-duk as well. Without giving too much away, their arcs followed a very similar path, to the point where they felt like kindred spirits. I thought both those elements were handled well, especially the latter, but the narrative did also feel mostly predictable and shallow. I felt more invested in the outcome of the tiger than I did the humans, and it's not that I'm anti-hunting or anything like that. The hunters were hunting to survive in one way or another, so I don't begrudge them that. It's just that I felt more concerned and invested in the tigers outcome than the humans. The acting was fine too. Choi Min-sik hands in another taciturn performance similar to his role in The Admiral: Roaring Currents, and he does it well. The cinematography was nice and wide most of the time, giving us a good awareness of not only the size of the landscape, but the beauty of it as well, its bestial beauty.
I'm sure some people will complain about the occasionally obvious cgi in "The Tiger", but there were some genuinely believable, powerful, chilling, majestic and evocative moments that all came from the "Mountain Lord", so I willingly overlook a bit of weak cgi here and there, because of those incredible sequences. The story is involving, to a degree, but it also felt somewhat thin and slow, especially in the first half. To their credit though, the plot deepens substantially, and the momentum gains a lot of traction in the second half, which brings the movie together in a powerfully sentimental way that sort of snuck up on me. The tiger action is savage, brutal and ferocious, as you'd expect. Probably going over the top in its prowess, which only lends itself to the more mythical depiction of the soulful beast. The atmosphere was deeply elegiac and emotionally moving, and even though I don't think "The Tiger" reached the peaks of greatness it was aiming for, it was not a bad effort at all. Definitely worth a watch.
Written by - The Sentry - 01/11/2016