A Case For Better Action Movies: Kim Hong-Sun’s PROJECT WOLF HUNTING Is A Rousing, Gory Action Horror Spectacle
Project Wolf Hunting arrives on Digital, Blu-ray & DVD February 14 from Well Go USA Entertainment.
TIFF programmer Peter Kuplowsky’s use of the term “bloody bedlam” in his notes for director Kim Hong-sun’s Midnight Madness title, Project Wolf Hunting, is something I never thought would stick with me. Its recurrence comes now, juxtaposed alongside citations in various online blurbs and reviews comparing the film’s propulsive violence to that of Timo Tjahjanto or even Jesse Johnson. They’re not wrong, and to add, the levels of violence this film reaches certainly serve as a visual compliment to the film’s nascency as a potential franchise starter for action horror moviegoers looking to get their kick. I haven’t seen any of Kim’s prior work before this film either, although the five-time filmmaker’s representation at WME as of last September following the film’s Toronto premiere, and the grand reception and ceremony it’s been receiving since then, ought to warm up fans in the West nicely this time around.
Don’t misconstrue my use of the term “warm-up” in this review, however. Kim makes sure to remind viewers just what the hell it is they’re about to get into within the first several minutes for an opening sequence during which a prisoner transport crowded with news reporters and civilians results in mass casualties following a terroristic revenge attack. The few body parts contained within a single shot of a massive spillage of blood rolling into view is the ominous foreshadowing we get in the proverbial “taste of things to come” before we are eventually introduced to the film’s primary story which sees a squad of detectives extraditing dozens of brazen criminals from the Philippines where they were on the run from the law. Taking a page from the aforementioned incident just five years earlier, authorities have since resolved to use a giant cargo ship by water as the preferred means of transport back to Korea. This way, the job is isolated, and there are no innocent bystanders, speaking of which, to add, among the ship’s passengers comprised of cops and crooks, is a medical team of two – their purpose for the trip, a mystery to the detectives in charge.
Less vague is the animosity placed front and center between detective unit Captain Lee (Park Ho-san) and the execrable and heavily tattooed murderer, Park Jong-du (Seo In-guk), ever eager to get on Lee’s bad before boarding, setting the stage for an intense trip from a South Asian sunset on land into a hellish boat ride on high water. Just as the ship breaches international water, it’s only a matter of time before what should have been a thoroughly-managed transport mission becomes vociferously haywire, when betrayal and sinister sabotage leads to a bloody insurrection that results in Jong-du and the other inmates mounting a rising body count, and retaining control of the ship. What little they and the other surviving detectives know, however, will soon rear its ugly head, from the bowels of the ship where deadly secrets remain key to understanding the very unhinged force of death-manifested and reawakened, menacing the ship’s passengers, moving fast like lightning, and pouncing on its prey like thunder.
It’s the kind of sci-fi-tinged horror that piques your interest as you keep watching Project Wolf Hunting, particularly as the danger intensifies about an hour or so in, and the lingering threat finally reveals itself in the form of Frankenstein’s monster in the form of Alpha (Choi Gwi-hwa), an injured Korean/Japanese soldier revived and genetically amplified with wolf DNA, who’s been alive since rotary phones became popular in the states. Throw in a twist that envelopes big pharma, along with a row of other mysterious, young-looking characters with the same inmate branding as our more decrepit monster, shady coast guard operations Captain Oh (Sun Dong-il), and Lee Do-il (Jang Dong-yoon), a prisoner with tragic past of his own. Couple it all with almost mind-numbing, blunt-force action choreography by Yoo Sang-seop, who previously worked with Kim on Traffickers and The Chase, and Lee Kwang-gi who helped shepherd the action on recent thrillers like Hunt and Alienoid, and you get a film that to hold a candle to its predecessors in ways that genre cinephiles can totally appreciate.
What works most is the consistent peeling back of layers in Project Wolf Hunting, as it starts off from being one thing, before revealing itself as something else in a spiraling series of events that all serve as introductory to one key character who could stand to continue the saga going forward. The film’s progression tends to teeter back and forth between flashback moments, some of which are sometimes challenging to get into, and only because you’re so caught up in the present timeline that anything else feels like filler. The only upside to these brisk sequences is that they offer a good deal of context and depth to the film’s world-building endeavor, albeit at the risk of being potentially excessive, and you can appreciate the effort Kim puts into really crafting Project Wolf Hunting into something that’s fleshed out and doesn’t fall short of storytelling brevity.
What also drives the film is the constant modifier set in place by Choi’s Alpha, not only as a feral killer, but the unexpected anomaly on a ship full of presumably dangerous people. You have Seo’s character whose bloodlust, cunning and determination are outmatched only by the impression his body tattoos leave. He kills impulsively and shows no mercy in his actions, but as the film reveals, even he’s no match for the will and resolution of at least a few other characters in this film; To say the least, it’s when Captain Lee and his men zero in on Jong-du and the rest of the would-be escapees in the engine room that Alpha makes his fearsome landing, that the answer as to whether or not who is the biggest threat to everyone on the ship is stated loud and clear. Broken sent flying upon being kicked or punched, broken bones, bashed skulls, sledgehammered heads, penetrated chest cavities, ripped flesh, torn-out organs, limbs severed at knifepoint in one fell swoop, and pools upon pools of blood await the increasing body count left by the Alpha. He doesn’t just go after his victims, he goes through them.
The action recapitulates with a ballistic shootout pitting Oh and his men against the Alpha, followed by a brutal fight finale between Oh and Lee that brings one of the film’s preliminary subplots full circle. The film culminates with the reintroduction of characters introduced earlier on in another scene that introduces Oh talking to a mysterious antagonist as this person is getting a blow job from his partner, a scene that doesn’t exactly end most pleasantly for one individual and keeps right in tone with the rest of the bloody affair that is Project Wolf Hunting, an envelope-pushing, edgy, bone-crunchingly violent and gory body-horror actioner that does right by its intended target audience.
Kim’s latest doesn’t exactly invest in the type of gravity-defying action sequences viewers are familiar with in the most recent The Witch sequel – a franchise that follows its own formula for the supersoldier subgenre. Still, you can be rest assured that it aims just as high and suits itself well in the supersoldier sub-genre of action horror films, pairing itself excellently with the likes of Simon West’s Con Air, John Carpenter’s Ghosts Of Mars, Stephen Sommers’ Deep Rising and Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade, the ’87 and ’90 installments of Predator, the Universal Soldier franchise, high seas thrillers like Na Hong-jin’s The Yellow Sea, and even Marvel superhero lore a la Wolverine. You’re welcome to chalk all this up to fan service from the director if you so wish, but there’s no question that he’s a director to keep an eye on as the New Year stays the course, and for fans of Asia Extreme horror and action, making Project Wolf Hunting all the more worth sinking your teeth into.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.