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‘Project Wolf Hunting’ (review)

Project Wolf Hunting is a 2018 Korean survival horror film starring Seo In-guk (I Remember You), Jang Dong-yoon (Search), and Park Ho-san (Night in Paradise). Directed by veteran helmer of thrillers Kim Hong-sun (The Chase, Metamorphosis), this is one of the highest profile Korean releases of last year and will be released on Blu-ray and digital later this month.

I now know how Churchill must have felt when his aides told him the Americans were going to enter the war, because it was the same kind of breathless glee with which people spoke about Project Wolf Hunting coming off of its festival debut. “It’s a Korean picture that’s going for that Indonesian hyper-violent style”, one friend proclaimed to me. That’s enough to get my attention. As regular readers of my reviews know, I consider the latest crop of Indonesian action films to be the current heavyweight champions of visceral action and thrilling choreography.

To hear that a Korean director was stepping into those waters, with all the skill that that nation’s cinema has shown over the past two decades, was truly intriguing.

Project Wolf Hunting, however, is not a film in the same vein as The Raid 2 or The Night Comes for Us. What it is, is the greatest Resident Evil film never made– a gory, sadistic, twist-filled survival horror romp with a big cast of characters who will not live to see the end of the picture, a ridiculous plot cobbled together from sources as disparate as Die Hard and Drive, and mixes them all up in a cinematic blender.

If you like suspenseful action films, monster movies, or slashers and you don’t mind some pretty silly plot developments being delivered with a straight face you’ll find quite a bit to like here.

The film opens with a literal bang, as a protestor suicide bombs a group of criminals being extradited back to Korea from the Philippines. The opening credits display as a literal stream of blood flows from just off screen where the bomb has gone off. Right away we’re introduced to the tonal tension of the entire film: just how serious are we to take this? I’m not sure I have a concrete answer to that question.

This film wants to have the gravitas of a film like The Raid but also wants to have World War II super soldier experiments running amok and a Jason Vorhees-esque villain. I’m not sure that tension ever really gets resolved and it, along with the run time that feels about twenty minutes too long, are my only real gripes with the film.

The film’s story proper opens with a mass extradition of Korean prisoners from the Philippines via ocean cargo ship. The prisoners brutally take the ship, killing most of the cops and crew. There’s no exciting choreography or pulse-pounding action here: this is sadistic, extreme, violence that would make an Italian splatter director blush. The film does an excellent job of making its prisoners truly despicable and its heroes seem constantly on the brink of death so that when the worm finally turns and the cops regroup you’re given a dynamic that could’ve easily carried the rest of the film on its own.

It won’t get the chance, though, because just like From Dusk Till Dawn, this film has a classic genre switch just at the point of maximum tension. Just as the cops and inmates initiate a Mexican stand-off, the film’s monster: a Japanese war time experiment where a lobotomized strongman was somehow genetically engineered with the traits of a wolf, and had his eyes sewn shut, appears and displays a pretty democratic approach to murdering everyone he sees. The remaining prisoners who can be reasoned with and cops have to team up to survive the psychos, wolf-human hybrid, and corporate death squads  that show up to collect their evil experiment.

There are no real characters here, only archetypes borrowed from films you’ve seen before.

There’s the good man stuck with the prisoners, the charismatic psycho, the hard bitten cop, the Weyland-Yutani type corporate clean up man, the coward, and even a nurse who seems directly lifted out of a Friday the 13th film. How much you enjoy this picture is really going to depend on how much you can forgive in terms of lazy characterization and tonal shifts in order to enjoy stylish and suspenseful kills. If Con Air stopped halfway through to allow for Frankenstein’s monster to start killing everyone, you’ve got a sense of what’s going on here.

For me, this one is definitely worth a watch but know that you’re not getting an easy experience to characterize and if you’re more of an action fan than a horror fan you may be let down. If you can accept the film on its terms you’ll be rewarded, though.

 

*  *  *  * *
Produced by Gu Seong-mok
Written and Directed by Kim Hong-seon
Starring Seo In-guk, Jang Dong-yoon, Choi Gwi-hwa, Park Ho-san,
Jung So-min, Ko Chang-seok, Jang Young-nam, Sung Dong-il

 

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