Imagine setting Simon West’s classic 1997 prison-break thriller, Con Air, complete with the grisly cast of gruesome killers, on a cargo ship somewhere in the ocean between the Philippines and South Korea... then add a deadly creature hell-bent on indiscriminate slaughter marauding around below decks, not unlike Ridley Scott’s 1979 SciFi horror classic, Alien ... and just for good measure throw in about a thousand gallons of spurting blood and you’ll have some idea of what to expect from Hong-Sun Kim’s bloody gorefest, PROJECT WOLF HUNTING.
A rogues gallery of Korean criminals arrested in the Philippines are being transferred from Manilla to Busan but their Plan A is scuttled by a terrorist bombing and Plan B is to transport them aboard the cargo vessel, Frontier Wolf. Jong-du (a compelling performance from Seo In-Guk) is the most heinous and high-risk of this you can tell he’s the worst by the crazy gleam in his eye and the almost complete body covering of wild tattoos. It’s a wonder he’s not strapped up like Hannibal Lecter.
A squad of twenty highly experienced detectives have been assigned to guard him and the others along with protecting the ship’s crew. But they’re not the only passengers. When a doctor and nurse join the voyage, it seems that it is not only the human cargo’s well-being they’re focused on. There’s one more passenger, not exactly human, but apparently human-made lying in a trance state in the cargo hold. It’s the doctor’s responsibility to keep this hideous creature with its eyes stapled shut (Choi Guy-hwa) subdued for the duration of the journey (shades of Australian director, Justin Dix’s quite good 2019 WWII horror flick Blood Vessel here).
Of course, the doctor fails in his mission to keep the creature at bay and the detectives fail in the mission to keep the prisoners under lock and key and even the coast guard fails to keep watch on the ship after they’re infiltrated by a nefarious group whose purpose only vaguely becomes clear through flashbacks later on. After that? Mayhem.
It sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? And depending on what you’re looking for up on that screen, it will either be just that, or it might be a tad disappointing.
So, what is it that would make you think it was a pretty good movie? Well, you’d be looking for a film with LOTS of characters – enough to offer a VERY high body count AND not too much time wasted on characterisation - just enough to help you distinguish between the goodies and the baddies (or in the case of this film, the goodies, the baddies and the not-so-baddies).
You’d be looking for a high rate of hyper-realistic killings and enough anatomical suspension of disbelief so that wherever on the body a wound is inflicted, there’s a convenient artery just below that surface and a high enough level of blood pressure to send the blood fountaining out like a geyser (this is not a voyage where you want to be wearing your good shoes).
You’d be hoping for some excellent prosthetic work to provide a range of butchery and dismemberments (and you wouldn’t be disappointed in this).
You’d be looking for a film that focuses less on the depth of storytelling and more on ‘just getting on with it’ as regards the motivations for killing, maiming and eviscerating as many characters as possible... and speaking of characters, you’d be happy for just about every character you make any level of investment in with regard to your care-factor, to have the life expectancy of a gnat (I don’t think that’s a spoiler, given the rate at which these characters are dispatched).
And finally, you’d be unperturbed by the tangled plot that often leaves you uttering Butch Cassidy’s famous line, ‘who are those guys?’
Clearly, these are the parameters according to which Hong-Sun Kim set about making this movie and, as rule number one of movie reviewing states – review the film on its own terms not yours, the film the filmmaker wanted to make, not the film you’d have made – then it succeeds at almost every level. So, as I say, if you and Hong-Sun Kim are on the same page about these things, then you’re going to love it.
As it happens, I was quite in the mood for a film like this, so I went with it, for the most part.
Upon reflection, however, I do think there are elements that might easily leave a chunk of the audience disappointed. What elements are they? Essentially, the opposite of everything I’ve already highlighted.
But the element that probably lets the film down the most is its excess... too much of a good (or in this case, gruesomely horribly bloodsoakingly bad) thing. The film gets off to a cracking start. It’s high paced and high tension and the snarls and dagger-eyes from crims and cops alike set the tone very efficiently. But then, the killings start and go on and on and on for such a long time in in such a samey manner that I, for one, started to glaze over and once that happens you disengage from what little story there is to hold your attention.
And after the third or fourth instance of characters you hold out some hope for being slaughtered in all sorts of inventive ways and ending up in ankle-deep pools of blood, you stop caring about them and simply let the festival of viscera wash over you. There’s an attempt to explain the creature and some of the other impenetrable plot points late in the piece but by then, they barely matter. In the end, the film relies more on blood as a lubricant to its story than actual storytelling and as a way of engaging its audience, that can only go so far. Hence my fence sitting at the outset. There may be a lot to like in this movie, but I suspect there’s not enough to please everyone.