ILLANG: THE WOLF BRIGADE (2018)
Stylish and filled with kinetic action, but undone by a clumsy plot and under baked characters, a government special unit hunts a rebel group in the near-future
It is impossible not to take a film’s potential into account when assessing its final virtues. Here we have a top tier director in Kim Jee-woon, a strong cast of performers and blistering source material in Japanese anime Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade.
The final result still offers plenty in entertainment and bone-crunching fights, as Director Kim continues to marshal more superb action set-ups. Unfortunately, it feels there are still too many holes in this bucket to stop the water gushing to the floor.
While the original is an alternate-history Japan in the 1950s, Kim’s version takes place in the near future when the reunification of the two Koreas nears, but an anti-reunification terrorist group called “The Sect” has other ideas.
Tasked with taking them down are a special unit launched by the South Korean police known as “Illang” (The Wolf Brigade), who come complete with laser red eyes and heavy artillery.
However, after being introduced to this slick band of killers, they go missing for most of the film after the death of an underage suicide bomber working for the Sect forces authorities to park the Illang experiment.
The Illang member who failed to act when confronted with the girl, Lt. Lim (Gang Dong-won), is sent out to pasture where he then meets Lee Yun-hee (Han Hyo-joo) who claims to be the dead girl’s sister.
From here, it is difficult to surmise the multi-plot directions the film takes in a single review, but at some point Public Security's Han Sang-woo (Kim Moo-yul) gets pulled into matters and it seems Yun-hee’s intentions are unclear. The main point is that crew of steel-clad renegades are missing for 90 minutes – the length of an entire action film – and for many they are the reason to tune in.
The final product is not helped by a bloated runtime. This is sub-two-hour territory and the gains from a longer duration are not made. Illang is still marginally shorter than Kim’s previous film, The Age of Shadows, which never once overstayed its welcome during it multi-thread espionage story.
There is a final fight scene where a single Illang fighter dons the outfit again and takes on an entire group in the sewers, resulting in some brilliant action fights.
However, the main difficulty is there being scant reason to connect with the characters and their plight. There is a sense of waiting for the next action set-up, for the next violent confrontation. While those are brilliant when they come, the film is unable to move towards more profound ground as a result.
For many that will not matter. A global audience will pick-up the film on Netflix and the Korean reputation for superb action scenes at least will be enhanced.
Despite some flaws, the impossibly versatile Director Kim can add science fiction and dystopia futures to his every expanding Swiss army knife of directorial abilities.