Howling (2012) - This South Korean crime thriller drew me in with its name, and although it was not the movie I was hoping for it was surprising. It is one part crime thriller and one part police inner office baseball that ultimately delivers. Everything thing does not turn out as you might expect and some of the film situations will push buttons viewers from the west. In its own way though it is a journey that is not looking for a perfect ending.
Detective Sang-gil (Kang-ho Song) like many in his office is vying for a promotion. The interactions we witness lead us to believe that getting moved to higher ranking jobs is not an easy thing. Since the force works heavily in teams individual accolades are hard to come by and often success means sharing the benefits while failure is often owned individually. So Sang-gil is not happy when investigating a strange murder, where a man burned to death in his car, gets the news that he will be having a new detective starting with him that day. Detective Eun-Young (Na-yeong Lee) has just been moved off patrol and into the office. Sang-gil does not want to be baby sitting a newbie and worst yet she is a woman. This fact will be one of the two prominent features in the film. Eun-Young is one of the few women ever to get into the detective ranks and she wants to stay there. She wants to be accepted and do her job but the way Sang-gil is trying to solve the case without help is only going to hurt her chances. On the other hand she will not go around him and because of her inexperience needs him to help her through the case.
This theme of the story goes all the way through the story. There is some story arc for Sang-gil where he eventually speaks up for her, defending her against the continuous onslaught of the other cops but it is unclear if this is any better. Where it seems she refuses to defend herself, having a male defender only continues the idea that she is not fit to be a cop. She never gets empowered as an individual within the group. Yes she does do some decent detective work which at least in the eyes of Sang-gil improves her standing but she also continues to make rookie mistakes. When it is brought up that she should be transferred back to patrol, Sang-gil defends her but since she never defends herself her fate in inevitable.
The other track of the film is the case itself, Sang-gil and Eun-Young are lucky in the case falls right into their hands. What at first looks like a simple case of a man accidentally burned to death in his car turns out to be a murder and more. How the script handles this is to have the smallest thing become important. So since the lead cops are assigned the cleanup work that work becomes important. The man in the car for example did not catch fire lighting a cigarette as first thought. No the coroner find that his belt buckle was a little igniting bomb timer with an substance on his belt burned him fast. Not only that but the guy had bite marks on his body, and a drug in his system that is new on the market. So our two main characters have leads to track down from this seemingly simple case. Now it would be proper in this organization to share this new information with the detective team, but Sang-gil wanting that promotion keeps things to himself and delays his final report so he and Eun-Young can investigate themselves.
This pattern continues with each small thing ending up being more important then initially thought. The pair seek out the drug dealer for this unique drug and in finding his hideout also find a underground prostitution ring focusing in young girls. They do not find the drug dealer though and the audience sees him killed by what appears to be a wolf. The killing connects the drug dealer to his hideout thus allowing the Captain into discovering that the pair has been holding back information. They are scolded harshly for not being team players, then sent to the simplest of tasks while the team investigates the prostitution ring. They are to look for the dog / wolf who killed the drug dealer. This leads to a breeder that shares information about wolf dog half breeds and a photo of the drug dealer, the man in the fire and two other men. This new lead gets Sang-gil and Eun-Young working the case and again Sang-gil wants to go it alone while his partner tries to get him to share information.
Eventually the plot is fully revealed, and it really takes a wild trail of small clues before we get the entire story. The wolfdog cub was taken by a former police dog trainer, who has trained it to kill. Why do you ask? Well the child sex ring is run by the director of a children's organization. He has decided that since the two death's of his partners he is going to eliminate anyone who knows about his misdeeds. At the same time we learn that the cop had his daughter taken and abused in this sex ring and has trained the wolfdog to get revenge. All of this is really well put together crime thriller with the cops learning the parts one at a time. Then the film unfiortunately goes off the rails.
In a strange turn Eun-Young feels a connection to the wolfdog, part spiritual and definitely not well done. She shares a moment or two with the beast, so that the climax is based on the wolfdog. In what can only be termed a stretch the police hope to lure the wolfdog out and kill it by hanging some of the little girls clothes in a tree near where the excop trainer and his daughter lived with it. Remarkably the wolfdog shows and Eun-Young saves it from being shot and starts a chase/follow scene as the dog leads the two partners to the hideout of the director bad guy.WTF! There is even slow motion dog running down highway shots that you have to see to believe. Then all that is left to do is have the two cops deal with the remaining bad guys and take another berating for not following procedure.
The movie which overall was not a bad commentary on sexism in Korea really fails at the end. Unlike what you would expect in a Hollywood film, Eun-Young is not proven to fit in and is sent back to patrol. Sang-gil gets the promotion he wants but then does nothing for the partner that helped him move up. It really takes a bite although maybe a realistic one into the story arc. The strangeness of the wolfdog stuff also really harmed the recommendation I am giving this film. In the end it passes but only because of the social commentary.
Rating (5.1) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more than others.