“Running Wild” marks the debut of Korean director Kim Sung Soo, apparently the prot’g’ of ‘Mr. Vengeance’ himself, Park Chan Wook (director of “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” and “Old Boy”). Thankfully “Running Wild” is not simply a retread of Park’s own work, and though Kim has somewhat unfortunately chosen to add yet another to the ever growing ranks of gritty Korean police dramas, he does at least take a slightly different approach to the subject.
The plot follows two men, the down and out, violence prone detective Jang (also in “Love so Divine”) and Oh (Yoo Ji Tae, also in the likes of “Old Boy”), an officious prosecutor, whose fates become entwined when they try to take down gang boss turned politician Yu (played by Son Byung Ho, “R-Point”). In doing so, they find themselves battling not only the usual hordes of thugs, but the system itself, as Yu uses his wealth and connections to worm his way out of trouble, manipulating the law to his advantage and generally perverting the cause of justice. Eventually, it becomes clear that to take Yu down, Jang and Oh will have to get their hands dirty, which predictably results in tragedy and violence.
Right from the start, Kim makes it clear that “Running Wild” is a film with its glass half empty, introducing us to the protagonists during decidedly low ebbs of their lives, with Jang’s mother on her deathbed and Oh’s wife demanding a divorce. The fact that things pretty much go downhill for both men from here should give you a good idea of the film’s tone, and Kim allows bitterness and cynicism into almost every aspect of “Running Wild”. The script contains a great deal of musing on the blind nature of justice, and the corruption so often inherent in the application of the law, though Kim never wallows in this, and actually uses the theme to good effect.
This single minded bleakness does help the film to stand out from other similar efforts, and it manages to avoid falling into the overuse of cheap emotion or too many of the cliché of the buddy thriller genre. Strangely enough, “Running Wild” is frequently quite amusing, albeit in a dark fashion, with most of the laughs coming in its satirical take on politics. Yu makes for a menacingly amoral villain, though he is quite obviously a symbolic figure, making telling observations such as his likening of gang turf to political constituencies.
The film is certainly violent enough, and what it lacks in gunplay it more than makes up for with brutal beatings, many of which feature the ever-popular iron bar. The nihilistic nature of the film makes the violence seem even more vicious, especially towards the end when the bullets finally start to fly. Visually, Kim has clearly learned a few tricks from Park, and throws in a number of gimmicky techniques. Most of these, such as the split screen work, are quite effective, although he does tend to overplay the sudden zooms somewhat, quite obviously using them to try and wring a few extra drops of tortured emotion from the cast.
The only real problem with “Running Wild”, the film’s basic lack of originality aside, is the fact that at nearly two and a half hours, it is somewhat on the long side and could have used some trimming. The pace lags at times, and though no aspects of the multi-layered plot are actually unnecessary, the film does lose its way around the halfway mark. This having been said, the extended running time does allow for a good amount of character development, lending the film’s dramatic elements more weight than might be expected, and giving the climax a nasty emotional punch.
The result is that while “Running Wild” may well disappoint viewers looking for slam-bang action or another film in the mould of “Old Boy” or “A Bittersweet Life”, it works very well as a decidedly cynical and dark police thriller. Though the drawn out plot requires patience, the ending is well worth the wait, and actually leaves the viewer wanting more long after the dust has settled and the blood has dried.
Sung-su Kim (director)
CAST: Kil-Kang Ahn …. Yang Ki-taek
Sang-woo Kwone …. Jang Do-young
Byung-ho Son …. Yu Kang-jin
Ji-tae Yu …. Oh Jin-woo