Wild Card Review
Detectives Oh Yoon-dang (Jung Jin-yeong) and Je-soo (Yang Dong-geun) are partners working for the Seoul police force. They work themselves to the bone on a daily grind in what seems to be a thankless job, yet they enjoy what they do and eagerly look forward to the next chase. Presently Det. Oh is involved in a procedural disciplinary, having fired his gun at a suspect when there seemed to be no alternative solution. That is soon brushed aside when a spate of killings carried out by young thugs forces the investigators to seek help from local organised gangs in a manner they only know how.
You can tell that Wild Card tries hard to be different from all of the other cop movies out there, simply by focusing most of its attention on the tedious aspects of investigative work. It probably shouldn’t be very interesting, but director Kim Yu-jin approached the film in a manner that would essentially reflect the mundane-ness of day to day cop life, with officers working horrendously long shifts and barely having enough time to enjoy being at home with their wife and kids. Yu-jin had researched his material in that he interviewed real cops, which in turn became a theme in Wild Card as many of his secondary characters reminisce old times and regularly discuss the problems with today’s society. Running in tandem with this is a specific commentary on the state of gun control, or more specifically that within the police force; there’s still much ethical debate as to whether or not guns are strictly a necessary method of law enforcement, with the general consensus being that the police can run shop using alternative methods - namely bodily harm. This much has been delivered in countless South Korean cop flicks, so in that respect Wild Card isn’t specifically offering a great deal of originality in what it has to say. What does make the film’s angle just that little bit different, however, is the way in which it sets up its perpetrators. Throughout the picture we have grounded, believable villains; the kind you’d imagine cops go up against more often than not. In a society that seems to be increasingly tormented by youth culture, particularly in light of recent years involving reported criminal activity amongst minors across Korea and Japan, director Kim Yu-jin sets his sights on exploring such adolescent crimes, and then having them take place right under the police force’s nose. The con to this is that the bad guys in Wild Card are therefore not particularly intruiging for the casual cinema goer: they’re typical hoods, with one chap in particular coming from a poor background, but it’s a shift that’s quite welcome in the face of action movies featuring outlandish villains.
This does work somewhat in Wild Card’s favour. We soon witness the police take to their routine investigations, with Detective Cho uttering his “Thieves catch thieves” mantra. What that means is that he and Je-soo must press well-known criminal organisations into to helping them solve their cases: a give and take situation, which certainly highlights some moral ambiguities. While there’s an evident amount of social criticism underlying Wild Card’s thin narrative it doesn’t always take itself quite so seriously. It indeed takes a serious subject and injects it with enough satire and eccentric performances that it rarely succumbs to tedium; the rather camp Sang-choon channelling the spirit of Caesar Romero, while the duo of Je-soo and Yoon-dang provides a healthy dose of consistent amusement.
Unfortunately Wild Card’s focus does waver from time to time, and while it may offer some ounce of originality there’s an overall sense that it feels the need to adhere to a strict cop movie code. In recent years the only cop flick that springs to mind from South Korea that exactly offered what it said on the tin was Nowhere to Hide. It was simple entertainment that forwent the usual clichés and provided a solid tale through and through. Unlike that film, which never bogged itself down with insignificant details and still came away a good buddy movie, Wild Card tries to take a bit of everything and squeeze it into an overlong two hours. Its cues come thick and fast, from mainstream Hollywood actioners such as Lethal Weapon, to home-grown hits like Public Enemy. Wild Card tries to broaden itself by appealing to a wider audience, but the results are quite hackneyed. It sinks into boring territory when it looks into the private lives of its officers, simply because it rarely goes anywhere and interferes with the general flow of things. We’re introduced to Yoon-dang’s wife and small child; meanwhile for the sake of exposition, Je-soo, while visiting the house asks Yoon-dang’s wife how she and her husband first met, which is most odd considering we’re meant to believe that the two cops have been partners for so long, given that the film throws us straight into the action (which is actually quite welcoming in that it isn’t another rookie assigned to a veteran who hates him type thing). And then there’s Je-soo himself, who for months has been regularly trying to court superior officer Kang na-na (Han Chae-young), who is practically a non entity (despite being fit and again denying us, just like she did in The Record) and has a morbidly cheesy character quirk, in that she likes talking to corpses. Furthermore it does hinge itself on some rather corny, tired and predictable plot twists: the elder officer who is terrified of knives but inevitability sacrifices himself by the end being a prime example.
And this is quite a problem these days, not only as far as Asian cinema in concerned, but so too the rest of the world, with the philosophy being that more is more. There really is no need for Wild Card to go on some aimless wander. It makes its points well enough, its humour works remarkably well and its central cast is extremely likeable. It would certainly benefit from a few cuts here and there in order to tighten up its pacing. It’s becoming increasingly rare to find truly original cop films in a sub-genre that feels like it’s been bled dry. Wild Card indeed tries, but it could have been something a whole lot more rewarding had it stuck to a couple of specific ideals, rather than forsaking itself with some uninspired acts of “character development”.
Wild Card’s R2 transfer isn’t one that’s totally awful, but it’s certainly the worst in terms of presentation to come from Third Window Films. NTSC-PAL conversion aside, it has been given an anamorphic 1.85:1 treatment and seems to be using the same source as the original Korean release. I’ve ultimately decided not to compare the majority of these Korean films here because they look essentially the same, which makes things somewhat redundant (see the Guns & Talks attempt). As with the Korean version, then, saturation does border on being a little high, as does contrast, though the palette remains colourful throughout and brings to life the, err, Seoul nightlife very well. Letting down the transfer is a healthy amount of edge enhancement and worst of all poor compression. There are a couple of occasions in which artefacts rear their ugly heads in the form of blocking, mainly on neon-lit shots with movement. Otherwise detail is largely fine and it’s certainly watchable, but Metrodome has done this kind of thing before, so need to be a little more vigilant in future.
The Korean 2.0 track is serviceable; offering enough clarity during the film’s many talky bits across the front channels, while the rears just about pick up ambient surrounds and help to give the score a bit of a lift.
Optional English subtitles are available and they’re not too shabby, despite a couple of grammatical errors and one line of dialogue not being translated. It’s nothing major to worry about.
A music video and theatrical trailer accompany the release, along with a Third Window Films trailer reel.
Wild Card is enjoyable to a large degree, thanks to fun performances from its two leads, while achieving a fair amount of what it sets out to do; but it’s a victim of its own run time and when it strays from the main case at hand it sinks into tedium, thanks to some half-arsed and lazy subplots involving its main players. It’s certainly filmed well though, showcasing a nice neon-lit Seoul as its backdrop, which makes it a nice enough diversion if you’re after a rather simple night in.