Wild Card Review
Oh Yung-dahl (Jung Jin-young) is a veteran homicide detective with ten years experience. His passionate determination to catch criminals has led him to develop an aggressive style of investigation that occasionally gets him into trouble. His equally single-minded partner is promising rookie detective Bang Jay-soo (Yang Dong-geun), whose inexperience sometimes leads to reckless behaviour.
When the pair are assigned to solve a series of murders, they are prepared to go to any lengths necessary to catch the perpetrators, including intimidating a criminal gang into assisting with the case. With each new victim, the detectives’ determination to catch the killers increases.
Despite the premise sounding like just another cop-buddy movie, Wild Card does what it can to approach the genre with some degree of freshness.
The cliché of a veteran detective being reluctantly assigned a rookie partner and the pair initially failing to get along is avoided, as Oh Yung-dahl and Bang Jay-soo are already in an established working partnership at the start of the film.
Jung Jin-young, who gave adequate, if unimpressive, performances in Bichunmoo and Guns and Talks, is given a greater opportunity to shine in the role of seasoned detective Oh Yung-dahl. Yang Dong-geun, previously seen in Bet On My Disco and Kim Ki-duk's Address Unknown, holds his own as Oh Yung-dahl's impetuous partner, Bang Jay-soo.
Solid support comes from Ki Joo-bong as the Lieutenant and You Ha-bok as Detective Shim, but love-interest Han Chae-young is not required to do much more than look pretty, while Lee Do-kyoung's performance as a gang leader and pimp seems to have been lifted straight from a Seventies blaxploitation movie.
Rather than the glamorous and charismatic villains found in most films of the type, the criminals in Wild Card are portrayed as a bunch of disaffected youths whose greed, frustration and lack of empathy encourage them to commit brutal acts of violence to get what they want.
With the villains relegated to supporting character status, the film focuses on the detectives and their lives on and off the job. The result is not too far removed from the grittier television cop shows like NYPD Blue and The Bill, albeit with added violence and humour.
Unfortunately, the film's humour occasionally goes beyond the bounds of realism and into broader comedy, particularly in the case of a few of the supporting characters. Despite this concession to entertainment, the film does not shy away from portraying acts of violence committed by both the criminals and the detectives.
An American audience may be surprised at how little of the film's violence involves the use of guns, but firearms are harder to acquire in South Korea than in the States and gun crime is comparatively rare.
Despite this, gun use is one of the concerns of the film; in fact it becomes clear early on that Oh Yung-dahl is under investigation for his use of firearms in an earlier case. Some may find the film's stance on gun use sits uneasily with its acceptance of police violence, but few would argue that there is a big moral difference between straightforward physical violence and the use of firearms.
In fact, given the long hours, stress, constant danger and injured comrades, it is not too hard to understand, if not excuse, some of the detectives' more questionable behaviour. They are portrayed as passionate people who care deeply about their work and believe, rightly or wrongly, that the ends justify the means.
Director Kim Yoo-jin interviewed a number of real-life detectives before making the film, and he developed an affection and admiration for them that is evident in the finished product. Given the number of films that portray criminals as glamorous and cool, it is refreshing to see a drama in which, for once, the good guys are more charismatic than the villains.
As seems to be the case with most Korean DVD releases, Wild Card is presented as a two-disc Special Edition. Both discs are encoded for Region 3 only and come housed in a standard double amaray case, which is in turn housed in a cardboard slipcase with a silver-metallic finish similar to X-Men or the Bitwin edition of Shiri.
The picture sharpness varies from scene to scene, with some interior and dark exterior scenes also exhibiting a degree of film grain. The source print also suffers from the occasional print fleck. The anamorphic transfer is a little over-contrasted as some Korean releases tend to be, but colours are strong with good flesh-tones and there are no noticeable compression artefacts.
The surround mix is functional rather than impressive, performing as required without drawing too much attention to itself. For the most part the film is dialogue-based with the rear speakers and LFE getting limited use apart from during action sequences and some scenes in a nightclub. The DTS soundtrack has more punch than the Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but the difference between the two is otherwise negligible.
The English subtitles are excellent with just a few minor mistakes. The text is white with a black surround and remains clear and easy to read throughout.
The menu screens are straightforward with a small amount of background animation. Menu options are in English on the film disc, but in Korean on the extras disc.
The first disc of the set includes a full-length audio commentary with director Kim Yoo-jin and screenwriter Lee Man-hee. As with the rest of the special features, no English subtitles are provided.
The first extra on the second disc is an unusual video commentary with actors Jung Jin-young, Yang Dong-geun, Han Chae-young and Lee Do-kyung. The actors are filmed sitting together on a couch while the film itself is presented as an inset at the bottom of the screen. With the exception of Yang Dong-geun, who is the most vocal of the group, the actors seem a little self-conscious and uncertain of what is expected of them, resulting in frequent pauses.
The forty-six-and-a-half minute making-of documentary consists mainly of narrated on-set and on-location footage, interspersed with interview clips with the director and individual cast members.
Three deleted scenes are presented in a single continuous block lasting three minutes. All three scenes are incidental, serving only to add humour or flesh-out sub-plots.
The two-and-a-half minute music video for the film's guitar-driven theme song is comprised solely of footage from the film.
The two-minute theatrical trailer consists of clips from the film livened up with graphics and an introductory sequence with various inset images.
After the trailer there are four sections of Korean text-based material, starting with a synopsis of the film. This is followed by character profiles of the detectives organised according to rank and partnership, and then a guide to detectives' slang. The final text-based extra is a section containing short biographies and filmographies for four members each of the cast and crew.
The last menu option gives access to a photo gallery consisting of forty-two pages of production stills, promotional photos, video commentary stills, poster designs and other promotional artwork.
Finally, an easily discovered Easter egg accesses a thirty-second TV spot that is just a condensed version of the theatrical trailer.
A competent production on all levels, Wild Card is a reasonably entertaining detective drama that despite attempting a fresh approach to the genre remains ultimately unexceptional.
The film is presented with serviceable sound and vision and a reasonable supply of un-subtitled extras.