Review by Alan French
Few countries embrace genre filmmaking like South Korea. Directors hailing from the small nation surprise on the biggest stages. Kim Hongsun becomes the latest prodigy of note, with Project Wolf Hunting placing his work front-and-center for Western audiences. This freight train styles itself after the Bruckheimer/Bay collaborations, with the gore of Resident Evil and Friday the 13th. A bloody but fun experience, Project Wolf Hunting struggles to maintain momentum thanks to overly long exposition that harpoons it from becoming an instant midnight classic.
During a prisoner transfer of convicts from the Philippines to Busan, a bomb goes off at an airport. The government resorts to putting its most dangerous criminals and crime lords on a ship. With the worst of the worst chained up, it would only be a matter of time until the dam breaks. As the convicts take control of the ship, an unexpected evil awakens from the depths.
Much of Project Wolf Hunting thrives on its commitment to practical effects and actual gore. Once the first prisoners escape, Kim’s bloodlust cannot be satiated. The audience gets desensitized within minutes as Project Wolf Hunting establishes itself as one the goriest movies of the last twenty years. Leading the way as Jong-un, Seo In-guk has an absolute ball tearing into the meaty material. Tatted out and disrespectful of everyone he meets, Seo plays the sociopath with a giddiness that strikes a nerve.
However, not all convicts are so quick to violence. Do-il (Jang Dong-yoon) attempts to quell the madness, even when confronted by members of the police and the criminal syndicate. He simply wants to serve his time, making him a perfect reluctant protagonist in the vein of Nic Cage’s Cameron Poe. Jang plays the straight man, providing the audience some stability as Project Wolf Hunting becomes a blood-soaked Under Siege with a monster lurking.
The effects work feels genuinely stunning. Blood spurts hit walls across the room while brain matter spews from the skulls of unfortunate fodder. Few horror flicks have one creative kill, let alone dozens of them. The slasher elements emerge during the film's second half, and once our monster creeps its way into the frame, we have to wonder which characters will make it to the end.
Early in Project Wolf Hunting, Kim spends the time to introduce and differentiate at least two dozen actors. At various points, the survivors and criminals swap allegiances. When you think you’ve found a rooting interest, that character becomes the victim of a throat rip. Kim’s ability to make you care about each character outshines the American slasher trope of introducing characters solely to see them die. Instead, Project Wolf Hunting feels like the kind of simulation that yields different results each time you run it. The characters are that fleshed out.
However, this becomes a double-edged sword. The narrative overstays its welcome by spending so much time on the backstories of so many characters. We do not get into the meat of the story until an hour of its two-hour runtime. Additionally, more twists and turns are left in store for our audience. The amount of narration and exposition bogs us down, undermining the more unique elements of the film. While Kim may direct the heck out of kills and practical effects, he needs to work on his pacing.
Project Wolf Hunting will certainly not be for everyone. Those who love Resident Evil, ship-takeovers, or a gore-fest have found your next screening. Keep an eye on Kim, who is poised to make a full-blown midnight classic. Unfortunately, pacing issues prevent Project Wolf Hunting from becoming that breakthrough.
Project Wolf Hunting screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 8-18.