Director: Hongsun Kim (South Korea). Year of Release: 2022
The Philippines, 2016. A group of dangerous criminals, mainly murderers and rapists are due to be sent back to South Korea in some sort of prisoner exchange programme. One of them, Park Jang-doo, with tattoos up to the top of his neck, takes pleasure in taunting the chief policeman Seok-woo about his daughter, even though it means that the copper beats the shit out of them. Just as they are prepared to leave, someone from the crowd rushes up to them and lets off a bomb.
The same place, 6 years later. This time, the police are taking no chances. 47 prisoners are to be sent on a cargo ship on a journey which will take 3 days. They are hand- and footcuffed, locked in their cabins, and the boat is to be patrolled by a special squad of experienced police. Will this stop them escaping, taking over the ship, and shooting out all means of contact with the mainland? If you even ask this question, you’re probably in the wrong film.
Project Wolf Hunting is a film of four parts, each lasting roughly half an hour. The first half hour is arguably the most exciting, precisely because nothing happens. The ship sets off on time. The prisoners are locked up. The police make their patrols. The only really strange thing that happens is that the ship’s doctor keeps sneaking down to the bottom of the ship. The trailer has told us to expect a lot of blood, but the lack of activity in the first quarter helps the tension mount.
Once things get going, though, the blood really starts to flow. It should not be a plot spoiler to say that the prisoners escape and, under the leadership of Park Jang-doo, run rampage through the ship, killing anything in sight. There is so much going on, that it’s often not so clear exactly who is doing what to whom, although the answer to the last part is usually stabbing or shooting someone until the decks are covered with blood.
There is a fairly clear delineation between who is fighting whom – the criminals are fighting the cops, with the workers in the engine room left as collateral damage to be hit by the crossfire. One of the crims, a pretty man and a notorious killer, insists they carry on to South Korea, for reasons which only become clear much later. But the odds are very much against him, so he goes his own way while the others go on a killing spree through the ship.
Then around the hour mark, the cards are dealt completely new. It seems that the reason that the doctor kept popping downstairs was to administer to a lobotomised 100+ year old, with super-human strength. When we first see the monster, who has been named Alpha, he has maggots living in his eye sockets, By the time he breaks free, his eyes have been sewn shut and old animosities are buried as everyone flees him.
Apparently Alpha is the result of a project that started in 1943 with conscripts in the Japanese army. At some time, an evil pharmaceutical company took charge – the same one which is promoting new cosmetics which can make you look 10 years younger. The company is paying the doctor top dollar for his work, but the script remains vague about exactly what they are doing and why. Suffice it to say that we have found a new villain who is worse than rapists or cops.
There is something slightly perfunctory about this box ticking exercise, but then again, this is not really the film you go to to relish the intricacies of the plot. It is as if the writer realised that he couldn’t carry a 2 hour film on the original plot, so needed to introduce a completely new challenge. There is even more blood than before, including a scene where Alpha rips a man’s arm off before bludgeoning him to death with it. After a while, the violence starts to get a bit repetitive.
For the final half hour, new combatants are helicoptered in. This is pretty much necessary, as pretty much everyone else is dead by now. Project Wolf Hunting is the sort of film where there are so many bloody characters that it’s often difficult to remember which is which (although because of their number, there isn’t much time to give most of them much of a back story). But, given the amount of bloodshed, it needed that many characters to reach the required body count.
Is it Any Good? Well, at the start at least, this is a very well crafted film, with believable characters (within the unbelievable plot), and a sense of jeopardy. Granted, this sense does not last till the end – there are only so many times you can kill someone and make it look exciting – but there is a number of memorable set piece scenes. And in a film with no real heroes, there are several interesting characters who continue to hold our attention.
There are even a couple of leading roles for relatively strong women (although seeing as there are so many characters, they’d probably used up the male acting population of South Korea). Having said that, this is a film which positively drips with testosterone. No-one has the time to consider their feelings, as they’re too busy shooting, stabbing, or running away. While I do think that this is a film which works well within its limitations, these limitations are real and large.
I didn’t go to the cinema this evening with high expectations, but these low expectations were met reasonably well. Project Wolf Hunting does what it does pretty well. It either has a high budget or a good set designer, as it looks way better than most films of its genre. If you go to see it expecting an art house masterpiece, you may be severely disappointed. But if you fancy a night watching people chase each other through streams of blood, this is about as good a film as you’ll find.