The epic South Korean blockbuster ”The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale” is a mixture of a historical drama and an action-adventure movie. To fully understand this movie, you have to be aware of the fact that the tiger is a symbol associated with Korean people and their resilience to keep their culture, identity and values alive despite the hardships this people has gone through and is still going through today. That’s why the obsession of the Japanese invaders to exterminate the peninsula’s last tiger is related to the fact that if they achieved that goal, it would mean that the resistance of the invaded country would finally be broken. This context also explains why many Koreans despise the Japanese, fear the consequences of the hunt and respect the tiger by calling him the Mountain Lord. Still, some of the Korean characters want to see the tiger dead as well for many different reasons: reputation, revenge and wealth among others.
If the tiger were to die, it should at least die at the hands of a Korean hunter. The movie introduces us to three different groups that end up hunting the legendary tiger: Japanese soldiers, Korean hunters and the lonesome main character. Obviously, this philosophical movie doesn’t only deal with the symbolism related to tigers but also touches profound topics such as dealing with forgiveness, honor and loss as well as family values. The story of the old hunter and the old tiger has a lot of parallels as well. The tiger almost seems human in this movie and one can somehow identify with the majestic beast. Most people will probably end up rooting for the tiger’s survival. In my opinion, it’s quite an achievement from the makers of this film to make us feel this way without making this movie too melodramatic. It also helps that the CGI of the tiger is surprisingly dynamic, majestic and realistic. Despite a lot of screening time for the true feline hero of this tale, the initial first impression never really lets go. In addition to this, the landscapes on and around Mount Jirisan are truly impressive. The calm camera shots that never shake unnecessarily, the rich classical soundtrack and the contrasting lighting techniques add to the atmosphere of the movie. I must also point out the numerous fight scenes between the tiger and his enemies. In contrast to the movie’s overall rather calm pace, these action sequences aren’t only fast and powerful but also quite gory without ever getting gratuitous. They make the tiger’s desperate fight for survival even more realistic in my book. The acting performances are overall quite good. Main actor Choi Min- sik is authentic, entertaining and intense as always and proves once again that he is at least one of the very best contemporary Asian actors. I only thought that the villains of the story could have been a little bit more detailed, diversified and present in this film. The only other issue I have is the movie’s slow-paced storytelling. This film could have been about half an hour shorter and it wouldn’t have taken anything away from the character or story development at all. Patient fans of Korean cinema are already used to the smooth development but those who aren’t familiar with this style might find the movie’s introduction somewhat pointless, overlong or even boring and they might have a point this time. In the end, ”The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale” is an atmospheric, epic and sophisticated film that mixes contemporary action sequences with slightly patriotic historical fiction and philosophical topics that never feel too dry. Fans of Asian cinema will like this release and it’s definitely a welcome change to the hollow superhero movies in our Western world, so you might as well give this movie a fair try.