Review: Illang: The Wolf Brigade (2018) – ManlyMovie

Review: Illang: The Wolf Brigade (2018)

What to expect: decent asian action with a mildly complicated plot

Korean director Jee-woon Kim (I Saw The Devil and A Bittersweet Life) has kindly provided us with a live action adaptation of the Japanese animated film Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade. I can’t believe that the original Jin Roh, penned by Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), is nearly 20 years old. I distinctly remember catching it’s world television premier on UK TV back in the day and ordering it on DVD the next morning. That film was a beautiful, intelligent and occasionally brutal masterpiece. So how does this Korean version compare? Well, not too badly actually.

While the original took place in an alternative post World War II Japan, the action has now been transferred to Korea and the year 2029. With the international situation unstable, a plan for the reunification of North and South Korea is on the cards. This gives rise to international sanctions, the collapse of the economy and violence on the ground as a terrorist organization called The Sect seeks to prevent the reunification. A heavily armoured and highly trained ‘Special Unit’ is formed to crush violence with violence. The somewhat complex plot involves espionage and counter-espionage as a rival government institution seeks to undermine the Special Unit by targeting Im Joong-Kyung, a member of the Unit who is traumatised after a young female suicide bomber (known as Little Red Riding Hoods) detonates her bomb directly in front of him. The film focuses on the relationship between the troubled Joong-Kyung and the sister of the suicide bomber, who agents are using to set him up as he struggles to come to terms with the aforesaid incident. It’s a melancholy affair which is doomed to end in tragedy and violence, since Any story about beasts getting involved with humans won’t have a happy ending.

The film has a great, gritty, neon kind of look. Several shots are exactly as in the original, such as one scene in the sewers where the striking, glowing red eyes of the Special Unit heavy armour mask streak through the darkness as the wolf emerges from the shadows to obliterate his prey. As one character points out, these are not men in wolves’ clothes – they’re wolves in men’s clothes. Absolute bad asses. Any gamers among us will notice a striking similarity between the Special Unit troops in their ‘Protect Gear’ and the Helghast from Killzone. Apparently the same designer worked on both projects although these films (there are two live action Japanese films in the series as well) predate Killzone by several years.

The action and violence has been considerably amped up for this remake. Whereas the original only had a few violent, bloody scenes, chiefly of people getting shot to pieces by the Special Unit’s heavy weapons – they are armed with fucking huge MG42 machine guns and back backs full of spare ammo, Jee Woon-Kim has added many more scenes of slaughter and combat including slick hand to hand fighting and a car chase. Necks are twisted to breaking point and walls are frequently spattered with blood. And they’ve done a great job of recapturing the way people’s bodies react when they’re riddled with bullets from those machine guns. A lot of people die during the film’s running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Anyone who liked the original will be pleased to hear that some tracks from Hajime Mizoguchi’s beautiful and haunting score have been dusted off and used again in this remake, along with a new score which struck me as perfectly fine in and of itself.

Criticisms. The ending has been changed from the original and not in a way that I particularly liked.  I guess it has has been altered to cater for the local Korean audience. There was also a small change to the beginning, an explanation of why the central character is somewhat fragile, which struck me as kind of stupid and unnecessary. The film is a little long, but for me it didn’t outstay it’s welcome. I was going to give this 8 out of 10, but for fear of being labelled too generous, I’ll call it a very strong 7. Very much worth checking out on Netflix, The Wolf Brigade offers a satisfying dose of frenetic action, great acting and, crucially, a story with emotional impact.

7 out of 10