The tiger

The tiger

DVD - 2016 | Korean
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An ex-sharpshooter for the Kingdom of Korea is hunting the country's last tiger. Japanese forces and vicious local poachers also seek The Four Legged Mountain Lord, and will stop at nothing to claim their prey.
Publisher: Plano, TX : Well Go USA Entertainment, [2016]
Branch Call Number: TIGER KOREAN
Characteristics: 1 videodisc (139 min.) : sound, color ; 4 3/4 in
video file,DVD video,rda


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Feb 03, 2018

The simplified plot: a Japanese Governor-General is obsessed with taking down "the lord of the mountain", the last big tiger (or one of the last two) in Korea. At this level, the symbolism is clear: the tiger represents the culture of Korea at its deepest roots, and the Japanese are determined to destroy it. But even here, there's more: the governor-general is not only obsessive but fetishistic, and the person he's charging with doing this is a native Korean officer (Ryu) in the Japanese army. Message: Korea can't be solely destroyed from the outside.

Complicity adds other layers: the hunter he charges with carrying out the command is Gu-kyung. As much as he clearly despises the Japanese, he's working with (collaborating with) them because that's the only way he'll be able to continue to use a gun, and what is a hunter without a gun? But Gu-kyung's motives go deeper: the Lord of the Mountain killed his brother several years before, and in his own way he's as obsessed as the governor-general.

Gu-kyung traps and kills the Lord of the Mountain's mate and their two cubs, solely to lure the big tiger out. He then uses the corpse of one of the cubs to set a trap, a move which horrifies his honorable but simpler associate Chil-Gu. When the tiger evades the trap but takes the corpse of his cub, Gu-kyung approaches Chun Man-duk, a legendary former hunter. He has refused the direct Japanese entreaties, and he refuses Gu-kyung as well, no matter how much of a reward he's offered. His teenage son Seok, however, is desperate to marry a girl in the town, and needs funds. He signs onto the hunt at the same time that Gu-kyung convinces Ryu that he needs to send artillery troops to finish off the tiger. On paper that should work, but the tiger knows the mountain better than any of the Japanese soldiers, and the resulting casualties include Seok (a victim of wolves, not tiger), in no small thanks to Gu-kyung.

At this point, we're shown the truth about Man-duk and the tiger's relationship: ten years ago, Man-duk killed his mother right as he realized that she had cubs. He stopped Gu-kyung from killing the cubs as well and secretly found a lair for them and periodically left them food. In other words, he is responsible for the tiger, and the tiger is responsible to him.

The movie ends with the tiger and Man-duk finishing each other off, not out of anger, but out respect as they've both lost everything. The final scenes of the two reliving their happiest memories as they die is wrenching; if it wasn't before, it's clear why they both fought so hard to preserve the roles they (and Korea) had played for so long. But did any of the survivors learn anything?

As with many Korean historicals, this movie is as much about the plot as it is the larger conflict in Korea, but it's one of the most effective. I agree with another reviewer that the scenes showing the male tiger displaying affection and attachment to his dead cubs felt wrong until you understood the connection to Man-duk, and then it was even harder to bear.

Recommended for all fans of Korean cinema.


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