Sun 16 Jul 2006
Running Wild marks the full length cinematic debut from Kim Sung-soo, a prodigy of one of South Korea’s biggest and most internationally respected directors Park Chan-wook (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance). As such this film has a lot to live up too and it’s not exactly surprising that it doesn’t quite make the grade.
Jang Do-young (Kwon Sang-woo) is a homicide detective whose code of conduct is indistinguishable to the street thugs and gangsters he’s paid to bring to justice. Emotionally strained from his mothers illness and the guilt for arresting his younger half-brother Dong-jik who tried to raise funds for medical bills using illegal methods, Do-young is already a walking time bomb more than happy to unleash his volatile nature on any remotely suspicious suspect. When brother Dong-jik is released from prison after a 3 year stay the Guryong family quickly track him down and leave him for dead in the street, which leads Do-young to embark on a violent trail of revenge.
On the flip side of the coin we have Prosecutor Oh Jin-woo (Yoo Ji-tae) who believes in bringing down criminals by the book and respecting the law. He’s dedicated himself to toppling the Guryong family empire who are currently going through a transitional phase from mafia outfit to legitimate business with political interests. Frustrated from a lack of leads Oh Jin-woo looks towards the more reckless hands on approach of Do-young to shed new light on the case. Do-young has also hit a road block trying to find out why his brother was murdered so now the two very different personalities have a common interest.
It’s not hard to see why the plot description might have some re-referencing director Kim Sung-soo’s history with Park Chan-woo. After all it reads as another violent revenge tale, something Park is most famed for with his unofficial revenge trilogy, however that’s where the comparison ends. Running Wild with it’s faded tint and cat vs mouse scenarios is more akin to the recent spat of slow moving cop dramas that’s come out of Hong Kong of late than anything domestic. Only the occasional over the top melodramatics and token camera shots draws you back into familiar Korean territory.
Unfortunately there’s relatively little to separate Running Wild from any other recent cop thriller other than some note worthy visual techniques. There’s nothing strictly wrong yet it doesn’t stand out from the crowd either and to be honest, given the background of Sung-soo it’s hard not to take a reasonably entertaining movie as a minor disappointment. Cliché’s are what drives Running Wild resulting in some heavy handed preaching about the corrupt Korean judicial system but there’s nothing Sung-soo adds to the debate which hasn’t been said a million times before. While other directors have taken clichés and still created a highly inventive and relevant film like Kim Ji-wun’s A Bittersweet Life (another director Sung-soo has a history with), Sung-soo fails to put his own unique stamp on his effort and struggles to offer anything remotely personal.
Technically Running Wild is well shot and makes great use of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio although great technical ability is nothing unique in Korean cinema and it’s obvious Sung-soo still needs to grow as a director and discover his own edge. At the moment he’s just treding in the foot steps of far greater directors and unfortunately that has the adverse effect of making his efforts look all too inferior in contrast to those he’s been influenced by.
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