Around a decade ago, writer/director Kim Hong-sun brought us the crime thriller Traffickers (2012). Like his most recent feature, sci-fi actioner Project Wolf Hunting, it too confined most of its action to a ship and focused on a group of criminals. However, the flood tide of blood and gore throughout the majority of Project Wolf Hunting completely sets it apart from Hong-sun’s previous film, or anything else in his subsequent filmography.
After a major incident at an airport during the transportation of criminals, the Korean Justice System has requisitioned a cargo ship that is to ferry an assortment of deadly criminals from the Philippines to Busan, Korea. As expected, the criminals have other plans, with them enacting a breakout once they’ve reached the high seas.
Their breakout leads to a considerable loss of lives, with them taking over the shop whilst at the same time the remaining police try to regain control. So far, so Die Hard, and for the first part of the film you would be forgiven in thinking this is where the film is going. But just as things appear to be familiar there is the emergence of something else on board, a genetic experiment that is unbeknownst to anyone on board, or at least that’s how it seems.
This experiment, known as “Alpha”, quickly devours many of the escaped prisoners as well as the police, making it unclear who will truly survive. More secrets will be revealed as the survivors try to uncover the mystery of this experiment as well as get through the night.
It would appear that Kim Hong-sun was trying to break a record for the most amount of blood used in one film. According to sources online, Hong-sun has commented that he used 2.5 tons of fake blood during the production. With that in mind, it should be clear that this is certainly not a film for someone with a weak stomach, as there are no shortage of gore filled action scenes, filled with bloody stabbings, beheadings, scalping and the like. I honestly can’t remember a more recent action film with this level of violence. I would have to go back to something like The Night Comes for Us (2018) before I could find something to match this choreographed brutality.
Luckily for me, these are the kind of things that get a sick mind like mine interested, and I was pleasantly pleased to see that most of the effects were practically created. There is the odd noticeable use of CGI, but it doesn’t become that intrusive to detract from the other excellent work that is going on.
Hong-sun doesn’t waste a lot of time before getting to the action, with the extremely brutal prisoner break out being a mere taster for the carnage that is to ensue. When it comes to the action set pieces, Hing-sun certainly impresses, with this being the most action heavy of his directorial output. Occasionally, the action does become somewhat indistinguishable due to it mostly taking place in the same setting, with there only being so many ways a person can be killed. Still, Hong-sun does enough to differentiate the action to keep events interesting, mixing it up with a mixture of shootouts and blood splattered fight scenes.
However, while Project Wolf Hunting certainly proves its mettle when it comes to action, it is slightly lacking in terms of plot and character, especially when compared to the best of Hong-sun’s previous work such as the mystery thriller The Chase (2017). That film had a well developed plot, with beautifully realized characters, whereas here we are thrown into the action with very little in the way of background story.
As the film progresses Hong-sun begins to include a series of flashbacks to give us some exposition, and while it does fill in the blanks, it doesn’t help speed up the action. Actually, while some of the flashbacks are required for plot development, some seem to be merely included to pad out the run time, as the information they convey could have been covered with a few lines of dialogue.
For example, we are shown a violent scene early in the film, showing a group of gangsters murdering members of the ship’s crew in order to take their place. It feels unnecessary, as it was obvious they had taken the place of the original crew, with the scene’s inclusion seemingly only being there to have another scene of blood and guts.
Unlike Traffickers and The Chase, Project Wolf Hunting is more of an ensemble. It isn’t initially clear who out of the roster of characters you should be rooting for, if any. The criminals are suitably vile, but when the police are introduced they aren’t exactly shown to be much better, with them committing the same type of brutality they condemn their prisoners for. This is one area of the script I appreciated, showing that even people that consider themselves right and good are still capable of carrying out heinous acts. Even so, as brutal as the police appear, once the criminals are free they seem like choirboys in comparison with the freed prisoners having no hesitation in killing whoever gets in their way.
Even with this in mind, there isn’t a great deal in terms of character development, with most falling into archetypes rather than fully formed characters. Thankfully most of the cast are able to give good enough performances that help imbue their characters with more personality that was on the written page.
The fact that it is an ensemble does add some tension to proceedings, as it isn’t instantly clear who out of the host of characters will survive. Even so, the majority of the characters are painted so thinly and are so deplorable, it is really hard to care what happens to them.
Out of this ensemble, it becomes clearer as the film progresses that there are particular characters you should be centering your focus on, with them being given some more depth and backstory than the rest.
Clearly there is more to Jang Dong-yoon’s quiet prisoner Lee Do-il, with him at first seeming like the odd one out amongst his fellow prisoners. As things on the ship get worse, he begins to become more integral to the main plot. Of the main cast, he is probably the closest the film has to a hero, although that isn’t saying much in comparison to his fellow characters.
Dong-yoon does well in the more physical aspects of his role, but doesn’t exactly show a great deal of emotion. This probably is intentional, as much of the time we are left in the dark of his true motivations.
Seo In-guk is suitably crazed as Park Jong-doo, the ringleader of the criminals. He’s the type of character you can’t wait to get his comeuppance, but even then his character doesn’t go the way I expected. It is fun seeing his realization that he isn’t the most dangerous person on board, with Choi Gwi-hwa’s Alpha finally shows up to make mincemeat of Jong-doo’s crew.
Speaking of Gwi-hwa, he is also worthy of some recognition considering he doesn’t utter a word throughout, and his features are obscured with prosthetics. His performance is purely physical, being a mixture of a roided up zombie and the Predator.
Park Ho-san is also good value as veteran cop Lee Seok-woo, who has previous history with Jong-doo. I had hoped this aspect would play more of an important role but is unfortunately thrown to the side once the carnage begins. He is rough around the edges, and not exactly shy when it comes to some police brutality, but even then Ho-san manages to make him relatable, with his care for his team making him someone we at least care about.
His polar opposite is Sung Dong-il, who is no stranger to playing the bad guy. Dong-il chews the scenery any chance he gets and makes for a worthy adversary, with him being more blood thirsty than the mindless “Alpha”. At least “Alpha” has an excuse for his rage, whereas Don-il’s shady Dae-woong doesn’t.
It isn’t a men only cruise, with Jung So-min appearing as detective Lee Da-yeon. However, like her other female co-stars such as Jang Young-nam, she doesn’t really get much to do when the action starts.
Project Wolf Hunting won’t be for all. It is slightly overlong, and could have done with being shorn of 20 minutes or so, with several scenes clearly included to pad out the runtime. This puts it below par with other South Korean films of this year such as The Killer: A Girl Who Must Die (2022) or Hunt (2022). Even so, there is certainly enough here to make the film worthwhile and satiate both action lovers and gore hounds. It is yet another fine release from the people at Well Go USA.
Plot: 3/5 Acting: 4/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 3.5/5