blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Project Wolf Hunting (2022, Kim Hong-sun)

Watching Project Wolf Hunting (sadly not a Good Will Hunting reference), I kept wondering if the human body holds as much blood as the film suggests. It’s violent to the extremis, with every mutilated corpse creating a standing river of blood. It takes the film a while—well, at least ten minutes—to start gushing blood everywhere, but there’s the implication of it from the start.

Hunting beings as a police procedural, set in 2017. The Philippines has flown some Korean criminals home on extradition; one of the returning criminals’ victims blows himself up along with pedestrians at the airport (and presumably his target). We never find out what the criminal did exactly, but the implication is… financial fraud. The post-exposition shot features a river of blood (of course) and a blown-off leg. Hunting’s going to be gruesome.

Fast forward five years, and the Korean government’s making another run, except this time, they’ve learned their lesson. They’re going to take the criminals back to South Korea on a cargo ship, and there are going to be experienced cops on board to keep the prisoners in line.

Now, right away, there are some issues. Like why the cops—outside boss Park Ho-san and female detective Jung So-min—are questionably competent. There’s also the question of why you’re putting regular cops in charge of the transport instead of corrections officers or even the Special Service, led by Sung Dong-il, who take over the command room in Busan port to monitor the ship. But also, why isn’t the transport outfitted for these dangerous criminals, because they’re not financial criminals, they’re splatter-punks. Led by Seo In-guk, they like to eviscerate their victims, hacking or bashing them to literal pieces.

The whining cops seem like sitting ducks if anything were to happen, especially once doctor Lee Sung-wook sneaks below deck and gives some blood-encrusted guy in an ice bath an injection. The guy—Wolf Hunting (no, not really, but… sort of)—also has his eyes sewn shut, because Hunting isn’t for the faint-hearted. Though the eyes are never particularly gross or even disquieting, maybe because once the creature awakes, he’s covered in so much blood it’s hard to make out details.

Choi Gwi-hwa plays the creature. He’s supposed to stay asleep for the trip from the Philippines to South Korea, but once Seo stages his breakout and the ship’s corridors run with blood, it makes its way down to the Choi’s holding cell and drips on him, resurrecting him.

The voyage starts with a dozen cops, two dozen prisoners, and an indeterminate amount of crew members—who apparently voted to allow the Korean government to use them as a prisoner transport, much to their regret—but they’re down to a dozen by the hour mark. Hunting runs just around two hours; if you just cut out the graphic violence, it’d probably be eighty. Tops. The whole point is the blood and gore.

Except director Kim’s not really into it. I mean, his special effects team does fantastic work, but Kim doesn’t do anything with it. His action scenes are boring, all about characters you don’t care about dying horribly, but since there’s always ultra-violence, it doesn’t garner any immediate sympathy. Kim—who also wrote the film—even establishes the cops as assholes (before revealing the criminals are all splatter-killers).

The film’s also got some very obvious limits. For example, none of the violence against women is sexually motivated; the handful of ladies get butchered without any lewdness, though there’s some low-key homophobia (in some of the sequel setup).

Despite being a bad action director and a worse horror director, Kim’s fine with the rest, which is sort of a Jurassic Park movie. No one who’s too annoying lives long enough to impact the film, and the survivors working their way through are all solid enough, if not sympathetic. Female cop Jung and quiet family killer Jang Dong-yoon have an unspoken bond, mainly because they’re the only two competent people in their group.

Sung ends up having a much bigger part than implied initially, and he’s a tad tepid, like a metaphor for director Kim’s own disinterest. But the other main cast is all right. Like, Seo’s scary, and Park’s okay. The acting’s fine.

Good photography from Yun Ju-hwan and great special effects.

The third act’s got way too many reveals and way too many sequel setups, but the film’s entirely competent until then. It’s gruesome without being exploitative, unpleasant but not enthusiastic enough to be repugnant.

If you’re looking for something so bloody and gory you become numb to disemboweling, Project Wolf Hunting’s just the ticket.

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