This article is part of our coverage of the 2022 edition of Fantastic Fest, taking place from September 22-29. In this entry, we review the new Kim Hong-seon film, Project Wolf Hunting. Follow along with our reviews, interviews, and features from the fest in our Fantastic Fest archive.
Technological advances have been a boon to the world at large and filmmaking in particular in many, many ways. CG blood is not one of those ways, so when a movie comes along delivering most of its copious bloodletting via practical effects? Well those arterial sprays are geysers worth celebrating. To that end, few films in recent memory are as gleefully free with their showers, splashes, and sprays of fake blood as the new South Korean action/horror hybrid, Project Wolf Hunting. Think Con Air reimagined as a horror film with the action and violence dialed up to eleven, and you’ll be in the right mindset for this brutally entertaining ride.
South Korea and the Philippines have set up a prisoner swap with violent felons being sent back to their respective countries. Putting that many horrible people in one place is bound to be dangerous, though, so the idea is hatched to board the Koreans onto a cargo ship and sail them back home under strict guard by an equal number of police officers. Things go expectedly sideways once they’re out on the open ocean, and soon escaped convicts are slaughtering their captors with giddy abandon. They’re forced to rethink thinks, though, when a stowaway awakes and starts making mincemeat of them all.
Project Wolf Hunting may be a corny title — one character even says as much — but the film means bloody business. Writer/director Kim Hong-seon throws various cinematic inspirations into a blender, adds red dye, and hits puree with the lid off. Seriously, blood splashes across walls, ceilings, and characters throughout the bulk of the film’s two-hour running-time. Villains stab, shoot, slice, and bite unleashing massive and graphic displays of carnage. A plot unfolds beneath it all, one Kim perhaps too clearly intends to fuel a franchise, but if its action and horror you crave, you’re in the right boat here.
Heroes and villains are fairly clear in their designation while a handful skirt the line with their own secret motivations, but you’re advised not to get too attached to any of them. Project Wolf Hunting is a film uninterested in the expected character paths meaning anyone is fair game at any time. That bad guy you expect to make it to the final showdown? Say goodbye earlier than expected. That protagonist you’re sure will live to the end credits? They’re fucking dead. Kim isn’t playing around on that front even if he is clearly having a blast along the way.
The film is deadly serious, a few fun character quirks aside, but that doesn’t limit the sheer entertainment value of seeing an all-out slaughter unfold in gory, stylish ways. Heads are crushed, one poor schmuck has his arm ripped off and is then beat to death with it, and bodies are generally opened up in all kinds of ways. Viewers are given brief breaks with smaller character beats and exposition dumps, but while the former are good the latter can’t help but feel clunky. South Korea’s favorite punching bag, Japan, is singled out during some unnecessarily detailed back story told via dialogue and flashback. We’re given way more than we need — the reveal is teased, them explained, then shown — and they’re the kinds of scenes that could be trimmed/removed without hurting the film in the slightest.
The cast bringing Project Wolf Hunting to life does great work on both sides of the moral divide with leads and character actors shining. The baddies include a terrifically vicious Seo In-guk as an almost fully-tattooed psychopath who’s legitimately terrifying in his violent apathy. Sung Dong-il is a bit more laid back in his villainy, but the bastard still manages beats both wicked and hilarious. Their counterparts include a young female officer played by Jung So-min who acquits herself well in both performance and action beats. Park Ho-san is her superior, a grizzled cop who can’t help but see all of the prisoners as human monsters, at least until he sees what a real monster looks like. The remaining co-lead (of sorts?) is a mysterious convict played by Jang Dong-yoon who is slick with the fights while being sly with the truth.
While the exposition hurts the film as both extraneous and a pace-killer, it’s clear that one of Kim’s film inspirations isn’t from Hollywood. Like Park Hoon-jung’s The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion — clunky title, fantastic film — Project Wolf Hunting tells a relatively complete story while making it abundantly clear that there’s a bigger world left to explore. It satisfies while leaving the door open for another stab (and slice, slash, gouge, tear, break, bash, etc) at the narrative with surviving characters and new ones alike.
It remains to be seen if viewers will want to follow those survivors (while mourning their favorites who bleed out long before the end credits roll), but our money’s on yes. This may be a Frankenstein-like mash-up of genre and plot, but Kim’s eye for combining action and horror is strong. The fights here are visceral and thrilling, less about wowing viewers with cool moves and more about catching them in the throat or gut with the brutality, gore, and absolute mayhem. You wouldn’t want every movie to be like this, but as with films like Rob Jabbaz’s The Sadness and Damien Leone’s Terrifier 2, sometimes extreme bloodletting can turn the otherwise familiar into the absolutely wild.