“Illang: The Wolf Brigade” eventually loses its way

SEOUL, July 24 (Yonhap) — “Illang: The Wolf Brigade,” director Kim Jee-woon’s live-action adaptation of the popular 1999 Japanese animation “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade,” aims to deliver spectacular and thought-provoking sci-fi thrills but gets a bit lost along the way.

The Korean film relocates the setting from ’60s post-World War II Japan to South Korea in 2029. With war clouds hanging between China and Japan over a territorial dispute. South and North Korea decide to launch a unify government for their survival.

However, the continuing economic sanctions by powerful nations lead to economic instability in South Korea. Which leads to the emergence of a terrorist sect opposing the reunification.

The government then launches a special police unit to stop the terrorists.

As the state intelligence agency plots to destroy the unit, feeling threaten by its growing influence, Im Joong-kyung (play by Gang Dong-won), a highly train member of the unit, sees “a girl in a red cape” detonate herself right in front of his eyes.

Joong-kyung visits the girl’s older sister, Lee Yoon-hee (play by Han Hyo-joo), to give her the girl in the red cape’s belongings. After the encounter, he is torn between his mission that forces him to be a beast and his feelings toward her.

After the press screening of the film Friday, director Kim Jee-woon said he want to tell a story of an individual who becomes determine to flee an organization that forces inhumane actions to find his true self. Kim also said he gave the originally dark and depressing film a commercial touch so it can perform well at the box office.

Sure, the result is a stylish action thriller with dazzling scenes of gun battles involving men in iron suits and masks, car chases and a high-rise building action scene back by its star cast that also includes Jung Woo-sung and Choi Min-ho from popular K-pop boy band SHINee.

The problem is its relatively weak story. This lack of connection and overall jarring storytelling robs “Illang” of any suspense.

Most of all, the film falls short of properly delivering the intense inner conflict felt by Joong-kyung, a leading member of the Illang (man-wolf) troops. Who are made into lethal human weapons by the government.

“Illang” had an admirably ambitious idea of what kind of movie it want to be. Unfortunately, it spent so much time trying to recreate the world from the animate movie and remakes it into a big-scale action blockbuster that. It never got the simple things right. The romance between Joong-kyung and Yoon-hee is not captivating because the characters and their relationship are not given depth.

In the far-off year of 2029, reunificiation between South Korea and North Korea is imminent. There are riots in the street. So the South Korean government makes use of “Illang : The Wolf Brigade”. That is a paramilitary task force that attacks anti-reunification terrorists. Jin-tae (play by Jung Woo-sung) leads the brigade. Cheol-jin (play by Minho) gathers intelligence for them. Our main character Joong-kyeong (play by Gang Dong-won) agonizes over his past role in the death of a large number of innocent schoolgirls. That taking solace upon meeting the mysterious Yoon-hee (play by Han Hyo-joo) at Seoul Tower.

It’s difficult to keep track of everything that’s going on in this movie, mostly because information is withheld for the sake of later plot twists.

The main thing we know for sure is that the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood is going to be metaphorically work into the conclusion. Director Kim Jee-woon deliberately includes a lovingly creepy, highly stylize, minimally animate sequence where Joong-kyeong and Yoon-hee discuss the story’s themes.

But more than the theming, I was caught off guard by how horribly tone-deaf “Illang : The Wolf Brigade” is politically. Take the opening scene in Gwanghwamun. That is a popular site of real life protests, except this particular anti-reunification protest features Wolf Brigade Stormtroopers, complete with terrifying all-black uniforms, beady red eyes and a huge face covering masks.

The sudden appearance of violent terrorists is not a particularly convincing justification. That for their presence, considering that fascists have always use the excuse of violent terrorists to commit all manner of police state evil.

To an extent the production team is obviously aware of how unconvincing this looks.

After the Wolf Brigade hunts down a bunch of normal humans in a sewer. The story shifts gears to a complicate conspiracy theory, since normal humans inevitably come off as the sympathetic side. That when they’re fighting against nightmarish killing machines. Well, that and the romance between Joong-kyeong and Yoon-hee I guess. They don’t really stand out that much compare to the infinitely more intense action scenes.

And that’s the real shame here. “Illang : The Wolf Brigade” contains some of the legitimately greatest action sequences I have seen in quite some time. Every last confrontation is a brutal logistical battle. Firearms, robots, those suits, defensive ground, and scouting takes major preeminence in every conflict. Whether Joong-kyeong’s goal is to escape or exterminate all of his opponents. Yet for all this high tech mastery, a simple low tech move like smashing something. That with a giant metal pipe can be all it takes to force a complete turnabout in the latest battle.

Ironically enough the very brutal realism of the movie’s violence, couple with the political pretensions, completely kills any hope “Illang : The Wolf Brigade”. That has when it comes to functioning as escapism. While the movie is technically masterful, the moral implications are profoundly disturbing, and only made worse by the tack-on happy ending. That much might just be an adaptational issue. The original Japanese version, Jin-roh: The Wolf Brigade, felt no need to pretend like any of its characters were particularly noble.

INFO:

Rating: NR
Genre: Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Directed By: Kim Jee-woon
Stars: Jung Woo-sung, Han Hyo-joo, Gang Dong-won
Written By: Kim Jee-woon, Mamoru Oshii
In Theaters: Oct 19, 2018 Limited
Runtime: 139 minutes
Studio: Lewis Pictures

CRITIC REVIEWS FOR ILLANG: THE WOLF BRIGADE

Brad Newsome
The action sequences are mostly terrific: impactful, surprising and brilliantly choreographed…It’s undergirded by a decent mystery-thriller storyline and two very appealing leads.

Variety
Action comes easy to Korean director Kim; it’s actors that he doesn’t always know what to do with.

Jason Bechervaise
A film which is both over-plotted and melodramatic.

Joel Keller
A movie that’s 30 minutes shorter with half the characters would have made for a fun action drama.

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