Project Wolf Hunting is one of the rare splatterfests that serves you up exactly what you’re expecting while also managing to surprise and expand in unexpected ways. What you should expect is a gory Korean action picture that starts off like Con-Air but on a boat. The surprising part is how it builds on that, which I won’t spoil.
The movie begins with a group of detectives tasked with extraditing a group of the most dangerous prisoners from the Philippines to South Korea. They decide that the best way to reduce civilian interaction is to use a container ship and task it with transporting not just goods, but dangerous criminals. Mayhem ensues, bullets and knives fly, and blood (a lot of it) is spilled.
It’s exhausting and too long by probably 20 minutes, splitting the story into three relatively distinct parts that are all moderately effective in various ways but each too overstuffed to flow together well. The pacing and execution of the first section are probably the high point of the film, after which it loses quite a bit of steam.
It’s competently shot and staged, early on invoking the Bruckheimer era of 90s action cinema; however, the action is repetitive and becomes numbing at a certain point. We’re spoiled after the last decade of action masterpieces that constantly up the ante and have engaging choreography and staging throughout… but the bar has been raised and movies need to rise to it. Not everything can be The Raid, and while the occasional kill is inventive and surprising, for the most part it’s a relatively samey beat-down. The Night Comes for Us is probably a more apt comparison: both focus on a mesmerizing amount of gore with less attention on pristine choreography, but Night has a better consistency of fun kills. Like slasher movies, if you’re going to focus so much on the kills, you gotta keep it engaging with inventiveness and surprise, and Project Wolf Hunting doesn’t hit that mark often enough.
The cast is expansive and fun, and when a movie has this players with relatively significant roles (think over 20), it can be difficult to juggle them and make everyone feel distinct and engaging. PWH handles the challenge well with unique characteristics, costumes, and mannerisms that set the stage and keep you engaged. It also treats characters in surprising ways — no spoilers here, but let’s just say that no one is safe or has plot armor.
With a pared down script and 20 or so minutes cut, enabling it to keep the pace tighter and invest more into making set pieces unique, Project Wolf Hunting could have been an all-timer midnight flick. As it stands, it’s still fun, and surprising enough to place it solidly above the mid-tier of action cinema.