“Remember, there’s nowhere to run” an arrogant police officer explains to collection of rapists and murderers locked aboard a cargo ship ready to be delivered to “justice” in Korea having attempted to flee to the Philippines. It is in someways ironic that these men and women, depraved as many of them may be, have been loaded onto a commercial vessel to be shipped home less like cattle than faceless and inanimate objects. Kim Hong-sun’s eerie gore fest Project Wolf Hunting (늑대사냥, Neukdaesanyang) is in many ways about the horrors of the past but also suggests that the present is little better in a world in which there is little difference between cop and thug and we are all at the mercy of looming violence.
As one older prisoner puts it, “if this isn’t hell, I don’t know what is”. Thanks to an international extradition arrangement some of the worst Korean criminals are about to be repatriated from the Philippines only the historic event is disrupted by a suicide bombing carried out by a disgruntled victim whose smashed glasses and severed limbs are an eerie harbinger of what’s to come. After a rethink, the government decides to hire a cargo boat instead so the public won’t have access to the criminals, which is somewhat ironic, while accompanied by a crack team of veteran cops each with over 10 years of experience on the force. Already it isn’t seeming like a very well thought through plan, but as Captain Lee (Park Ho-San), who openly beats a prisoner with whom he has prior history on the dock, points out, there aren’t any cameras so he has full authority to enforce the law with no concern for the rights of inmates nor basic human morality. To cut it short, he’s little different than they are even if he isn’t, as far as we know, a multiple murderer or rapist.
In any case, keeping a bunch of violent criminals handcuffed with only one bathroom break a day and no stimulation seems like a recipe for disaster even if it weren’t just plain inhumane. But inevitably the operation is compromised by an attempt to spring a gang boss which lets the criminals take control of the ship albeit temporarily seeing as there’s something else lurking in the bowels of this floating hellscape that is pure nightmare fuel and a not quite living embodiment of man’s inhumanity to man. Predictably, this all stems back to the abuses of the colonial era and the machinations of the equivalent of Unit 731 operating in the Philippines but has since seemingly been co-opted by a shady Korean organisation apparently also attracted to the research’s capitalistic potential in the booming anti-ageing market hoping to usher in the next stage of human evolution.
What ensues is a parade of senseless violence in which cop and killer alike are stalked by a mysterious “monster” with wolf-like senses and preternatural strength, and that’s on top of the bloody destruction wrought by the vengeful criminals in their unsuccessful attempt to escape. As Lee had said, there really is nowhere to run though as it turns out that cuts both ways. The gang boss proves unexpectedly heroic, genuinely trying to save the moll who’d been arrested alongside him, while law enforcement reveals itself hopelessly out of depth even as Lee and his female subordinate Da-yeon (Jung So-min) pivot towards protecting the prisoners they were previously intent on oppressing as they form a temporary alliance to defend themselves against the mysterious threat, ironically a product of the “kemono” (beast) project and a reminder of what happens when you decide that some people aren’t really “human” after all.
Even so, the rampage is indiscriminate. The “monster” doesn’t care if you’re a cop or a killer, all it knows is violence smashing in the heads of the toughest gangsters and ripping hearts out of well-built bodies without a second thought. It’s got no eyes but knows how to use a gun and it still might not be the scariest thing on the boat, at least not in the end as we wonder what exactly all this is for and what might be meant by the next evolution of our species. This is indeed hell and there’s no where to run either from the unresolved past or the malignant future.
Project Wolf Hunting is released in the US on Digital, Blu-ray, and DVD on Feb. 14 courtesy of Well Go USA.
International trailer (English subtitles)