Don't Get In My Way
Flying below the radar this summer season here between Hollywood tentpole releases is Korean cop thriller The Killer Wolf or Howling, whose rather cheesy title betrays the storytelling quality associated with a genre that the Koreans have become rather expects at delivering. What more, there's one of my favourite Korean actors Song Kang Ho in the lead role, playing what else but a cop who's not exactly squeaky clean, frustrated for being passed on for a promotion he so desires. And add to that, he, and his homicide department, are quite the sexist lot, giving rookie female detective Eun Young (Lee Na Young) one of the worst welcome anyone can provide for new colleagues.
The team gets busy with what could have been a straightforward open and shut case of suicide involving self-immolation, but soon the clues start to pile and point to homicide, and then with more bodies turning up with fatal wounds seemingly caused by a wolf going for the jugular, before investigations reveal a loose link between all the victims, and a drug and underaged prostitution ring. Based on the novel by Asa Nogami, The Killer Wolf has plenty of red herrings thrown around, typical of any detective stories to keep you engaged, interested, and hooking you in to contribute your own thoughts about what's true, what's not and who's guilty, but in essence this investigative development turned out to be rather secondary.
Written and directed by Yu Ha, whose last film was 2008's A Frozen Flower, The Killer Wolf is very much about the leading characters, and both Song Kang Ho and Lee Na Young excelled in their partnership as unlikely cop comrades who have to transcend their personal prejudices and baggage in order to work together toward their respective goals. For Sang-Gil (Song), he needs a big case all by himself to provide just cause for a promotion, and in Eun Young's case, something to justify her transfer from the traffic police department and to make it as a homicide detective. Emotional baggage comes in the form of Sang-Gil's delinquent son, and in Eun Young's broken marriage no thanks to her late nights as a cop, but these are as fleeting as introduction goes in an attempt to provide a little more depth to the cops.
What made this a compelling watch isn't really how the duo went about their investigations, but like what's been seen in other Korean crime thrillers, how sometimes cops can effectively be inept, hampered by their lack of coordination and cooperation amongst themselves, and strangely enough, the sexism here is very much pronounced. Eun Young gets verbally abused countless of times, and what took the cake was that tight slap delivered by a fellow colleague, to which her response was to stand in silence. And all that stemming from listening to her partner and not calling their investigations in for backup purposes for personal and professional selfish reasons.
But what doesn't break you only makes you stronger, and the narrative for the most parts deals with Eun Young's determination to make it in her career and posting of choice despite having many first time jitters, and her dogged (pardon the pun) nature puts her very much in the driver's seat as far as investigations into the killings go. Song Kang Ho would fade off into the background from the mid way point, but Lee Na Young more than makes up for his absence with strong charismatic screen presence, who balanced her demure demeanour (some may even claim that it's submissive to her male colleagues) with some action sequences when called upon to become more physical.
The suggestion of a wolf-dog hybrid is also intriguing for tossing up plenty of questions, creating an entire arc and characters involving motivation to do what got done, together with bringing on plenty of sleaze factors amongst the guilty. Some may cry foul over how convenient this actually was in coming up with scenes and characters to link everything together, but as already highlighted, the story's really secondary to the strength of characters on display, and has the director keeping every development on a very tight leash, paced well and delivered where it mattered most. Recommended!