02nd Aug2019

Review Round-Up: ‘Illang: The Wolf Brigade’ & ‘The Drug King’

by Jak-Luke Sharp

ILLANG: THE WOLF BRIGADE

Stars: Woo-sung Jung, Dong-won Gang, Hyo-Joo Han, Ye-ri Han, Minho Choi, Jun-ho Heo, Jin-ho Choi, Moo Yul Kim, Eun-soo Shin, Chul-Hyung Im, Hong-In | Written by Kim Jee-Woon, Jun Chul-Hong, Lee Ji-Min | Directed by Kim Jee-Woon

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In the year 2029, South and North Korea agree to set up a unified government. They have prepared for the unification for the past 5 years. Meanwhile, demonstrators, supporting and opposing the unification, become more fierce. A terror organization known as Sect” appears. They are against unification. A special police force is formed in response, while a powerful government intelligence agency is also against unification.

Illang: The Wolf Brigade, directed by Kim Jee-woon and based on the 1999 anime Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade which was directed by Hiroyuki Okiura and written by Mamoru Oshii, has so much potential at its fingertips but loses it all in a meandering tale of social malevolence and melodrama that fills this action/drama full to the brim without much entertainment value.

The most intriguing yet the most disappointing aspect of Illang: The Wolf Brigade is the political underbelly of the film. The North and South Korean divide subplot is woeful and never fully realised. Made more underwhelming is the back and forth mystery that surrounds the battling parties for dominance that is not ever clear or explored to a fulfilling degree. Instead, Illang: The Wolf Brigade focuses on a melodramatic relationship that does not particularly fulfil the audiences need yet panders constantly to this thread. Disappointing when the bigger picture of a dystopian world is just waiting and begging to be explored.

Cutting back and forth to the two battling factions without showcasing the rival animosity feels as if it is baiting the audience to stay on board. Promising to deliver but never truly producing the goods. Considering the running time is a staggering one hundred and forty minutes, Illang: The Wolf Brigade is undoubtedly pushing its luck wanting audiences to stay around for something that has not got much going for it aside from visually impressive iconography.

THE DRUG KING

Stars: Kang-ho Song, Jung-suk Jo, Doona Bae, Ga-Yoon Heo, Woo-jin Jo, Dae-Myung Kim, So-jin Kim | Written and Directed by Min-ho Woo

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The Drug King, aka Ma-yak-wang, is directed by Min-ho Woo and stars South Korean acting superstar Kang-ho Song as the titular character Lee Doo-sam. Who in the 1970s goes from running in a small group of smuggling goods from Japan to South Korea into a domestic drug lord of the highly addictive substance of crank. Lee Doo-sam slowly travels up the ladder with girls, guns and glory – only to have his team fall apart and drug agent Kim In-goo is given the task to bring him to justice, dead or alive.

The Drug King is a mixture between Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Brian De Palma’s Scarface. Specific scenes are verbatim of the latter, of which is a little on the nose but plays more in the liking of a rousing direct homage than a literal copycat with no substance. The rise of the titular character is where most of the film has its fun. The growth of the cast and their eventual, inevitable fall, feels natural and never rushed. It is an organic tale that perfectly balances a sense of realism and the overly absurd with a terrific tongue in cheek tone. The audience is not here for a hyper-realistic gritty re-telling of a conventional rise in the drug tale, and while narratively The Drug King does not do much differently concerning genre convention, it does a damn good job regarding entertaining value and therefore the best realisation of this tale it can craft.

Kang-ho Song is delightful as the lead character. His performance is engulfed with weight and emotional layers that bring an otherwise bland character into a multilayered and dynamic living breathing embodiment of an engaging antihero. How he wrestles with the inner demons specifically, offers a detailed insight into what could easily have been a one-note character. Offering a perfect embodiment of someone who knows what he is doing is wrong, but in the moment is blinded by success and money that comes his way. It an element that sadly makes the fall of said character a little rudimentary, with how bizarre and intoxicating Kang-ho Song takes Lee Doo-sam on his rise the film cannot keep up with such a ride and falls slightly wayward into the traditional territory of everything the audience has seen before. In particularly the subplot with the drug enforcer Kim In-goo (Jung-suk Jo) of which does not garner enough material and therefore substance for the climax to hit the heights the film was intending.

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