By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Seo In-guk, Jang Dong-yoon and Sung Dong-il
Written and directed by Kim Hong-sun
Well Go USA
Busan, South Korea is the destination in PROJECT WOLF HUNTING in more ways than one. It’s where a cargo ship carrying a large group of hardened criminals picked up in the Philippines is bound, in a movie very clearly targeting the same impact as Yeon Sang-ho’s sublimely kick-ass Korean sensation TRAIN TO BUSAN. But where that international smash let us get to know an assortment of memorable people amidst its mayhem, PROJECT WOLF HUNTING has nothing on its mind but the body count.
In essence, this movie’s plot is one Roger Corman might have produced as a direct-to-video flick back in the ’90s, done on a big budget with tiptop production values and lots of blood. Lots and lots and lots of blood. It flows like wine, and that’s meant literally, not as a simile; it’s the color and consistency of Cabernet Sauvignon, the better to spray and gush and splash all over the place. Yet as employed by PROJECT WOLF HUNTING writer/director Kim Hong-sun, it becomes the very definition of diminishing returns. There are only so many times you can watch someone’s body or throat get violently savaged, with an accompanying geyser of blood, before a sameness sets in and the fun drains away.
Part of the issue is that the movie introduces such a huge assortment of characters—the criminals, the cops and other authority figures assigned to guard them on their voyage, the ship’s crew, a doctor and nurse along for the ride and a team doing something suspicious below decks—in the opening act. The strongest, if brief, first impressions are made by a couple of the convicts: Park Jang-du (Seo In-guk), a vicious, trash-talking, fully tattooed serial killer, and Lee Do-il (Jang Dong-yoon), who gets enough soulful close-ups in the early going that it’s clear he’s not that bad a guy, and will eventually have a chance to prove it. There would, of course, not be a movie if the miscreants didn’t break their bonds, which is achieved both by Park in an effectively painful manner, and by a band of duplicitous members of the force. A riot ensues, kicking off the film’s cavalcade of carnage, smashing and bashing and stabbing and slashing, which is good for a few jolts in the first half-hour or so before demonstrating that even the most graphic, splattery mayhem can become deadeningly routine.
Meanwhile, that small group down in the bowels of the boat are part of a genetics corporation, tending to a buff, comatose individual with a heavily scarred face, to whom that doctor must regularly apply a dose of anesthetic. When Kim establishes that some of the copious blood being shed upstairs is going to drip down into this chamber, it isn’t hard to guess what will happen next. Soon, this human monster known as Alpha (Choi Gwi-hwa) is loose: He’s apparently impervious to any sort of physical damage, possesses heat vision even though his eyes are stapled shut and doesn’t have even the tenuous allegiances of everyone else on board; he just wants to kill everybody, in as brutal and gory a manner as possible. Once he begins his rampage, Alpha becomes the central threat faced by good guys and bad guys alike–but where’s the suspense when it becomes clear early on that it’s essentially impossible to kill this guy? And since his violence is pitched at the same level as what has gone before, which has already gone way over the top, it just becomes more of the same.
The Corman version of this storyline would have run about 80 minutes; PROJECT WOLF HUNTING, like most Korean genre cinema, runs over two hours, yet finds remarkably little time to distinguish anyone in the ensemble. We never get a chance to attach to or empathize with anyone, and that doesn’t matter anyway because the winnowing down to the last handful of survivors feels completely random, and not based on any sort of narrative scheme. (Indeed, the most interesting character bites it about halfway through the movie.) The only digression from the singleminded, simpleminded onboard scenario occurs at about the two-thirds mark, when there’s a flashback to Alpha’s origins. This doesn’t tell us anything we couldn’t figure out on our own (aside from explicitly explaining the film’s title) and largely comes off as an excuse for even more extravagant butchery.
Having played festivals and limited theatrical engagements last year, PROJECT WOLF HUNTING becomes available today on digital platforms as well as Blu-ray and DVD, and the 2.39:1 image on the hi-def disc is as sharp as one could want, vividly colored and backed by aggressive DTS-HD Master Audio as well as a stereo track. (There’s the option to watch the movie in English; not that the dialogue matters much, but it really is preferable to view it in the original Korean.) Given what a sizable production this was, there really could have been more to the disc extras. All we get is a five-minute behind-the-scenes segment on “THE MOST BURTAL [sic] FILM IMAGINABLE,” offering thumbnail sketches of the action, sets, the cast and their characters, and other subjects about which it would have been nice to see and hear more; and “Making the Alpha,” of which the same is true—this one lasts only a minute and a half!