Running Wild: Director's Edition Review
Jang Do-young (Kwon Sang-woo) is a homicide detective who has little respect for the current judicial system. At home he tries to look after his sick mother who has been taken into hospital, suffering from a potentially fatal disease, while he struggles to work and muster up funds for an operation. When his half brother Dong-jik is released from a three year prison stint, which Do-young was responsible for, he visits his mother but keeps the truth of his imprisonment a secret. It’s not long before several members of the Guryong family track down Dong-jik and brutally murder him, leaving Do-young with no choice but to seek revenge and answers. Knowing that Yoo Kang-jin (Son Byung-ho) is the boss of the Guryong he uses any means necessary to get near him; the trouble is, is that Kang-jin is now reportedly a born again Christian who has learned from his evil ways, having spent three years in prison.
Meanwhile, sticking to the strictest code of the law, prosecutor Oh Jin-woo (Yoo Ji-tae) has been tirelessly working toward bringing down Yoo Kang-jin and tie him to the murder of former Dokang family boss, Park; in doing so he’s created a rift between himself and his wife. As leads dry up and the Guryong send suspects underground Do-young and Jin-woo become increasingly frustrated. But when they cross paths Jin-woo realises that Do-young’s fiery attitude might just be what he needs in order to see justice prevail once and for all, but in order for that to work he might just have to break a few rules.
Having studied under the likes of directors Song Il-gon and Park Chan-wook, Kim Sung-soo makes his cinematic debut with Running Wild. Clearly he’s learned something from his experience as an assistant director and producer of short films; furthermore he takes a leaf out of Kim Yu-jin’s (Wild Card) book as well in creating a style that’s visually comparable to Kim Ji-wun’s A Bittersweet Life and Kang Wo-suk’s Public Enemy. It isn’t just this aspect that makes Running Wild so relatable to such productions; so too does it carry an air of familiarity in terms of plotting. From the story outline above it’s readily apparent that Running Wild is chock full of clichés that will ultimately give way to further clichés down the line, and while that most certainly rings true Sung-woo still manages to happily evade any serious pitfalls. Its most notable asset is its theme in which instinct takes us over during our most arduous times; in the case of Do-young he becomes the thing that he hates the most.
Of course the most obvious element that ties Running Wild to half a dozen other cop thrillers from South Korea is that it deals with socially relevant issues, ones that are often addressed a little less than subtle when it comes to the genre. In many ways the topic of a screwed up judicial system in which criminals enlisted in underworld activities can get away with murder and bribery isn’t new by any means, neither is the amount of underlying corruption from both good and bad sides of the law. And so Sung-soo goes with the flow to capitalise on this growing debate, while not necessarily making any new statements in the process. He also does the obvious by pairing two mismatched guys who are worlds apart: one is young and headstrong and comes from a poor family, and in order to see that justice is served he must break a few rules, while the other is a prim and proper prosecutor who does everything by the book, but takes his job so seriously that his wife files for divorce. That just about sums up the kind of social and political commentary you’ll find here, as the director illustrates several differences between three distant classes - the third being the mob itself. Despite this, and its length being just shy of two and a half hours, Running Wild is still an entertaining film, primarily because of its central performances. A virtually unrecognisable Kwon Sang-woo delivers one of his finest roles to date, while Yoo Ji-tae provides a solid turn, along with Son Byung-ho returning in his second gangster role this year - and a vicious one at that - after the far poorer Vampire Cop Ricky. And yes, all of this does come with its fair share of melodrama and shouting, concerning juxtaposed family and working lifestyles, but you have to hand it to the cast, who raise the film above expectations and carry it with plenty of dignity.
Technically speaking Running Wild is accomplished enough, with some wonderful compositions that make full use of the 2.35:1 ratio, but director Sung-soo proves that he’s still very much in the middle of a learning process, resorting to trickery that might appear cool in his mind but only goes to dampen the dramatic effect that he’s obviously seeking to create; crash zooms are used multiple times, oddly enough whenever Do-young threatens to kill someone, which I suppose means that we’re being informed just how serious his intentions are. Sung-soo tries to get away with just about every trick in the book and on some levels he succeeds; he’s certainly got a lot of energy, but he needs to pull back the reigns from time to time and take stock of the situations at hand. Editing also manages to diffuse a couple of moments that would otherwise be far more entertaining. The film opens with a great chase sequence involving Do-young pursuing a biker through a congested street, but there’s so much cutting in-between that you’d think he gave it to Michael Bay to tinker with over one weekend - and Bay had probably been drinking too. This in turn hampers an impressive array of stunts and obvious driving skills. Fight sequences meanwhile, of which there are a few, are quite messy, but deliberately so as there’s nothing particularly glamorous about their purpose.
KD Media have put out the director’s edition on a limited 2-disc set. The case is fairly standard and comes with a glossy slip cover. Before you ask I have no idea what makes this different from the theatrical release and nor do I know which version we’ll see should this get a European release, which I suspect it will. However, Yesasia are listing this as a limited edition set, so to avoid disappointment I would recommend hurrying up if you’re interested in picking it up.
Aside from some edge enhancement, minor aliasing and high contrast levels - which do look a bit ropey during night scenes - we have a pretty good transfer, as displayed in its native 2.35:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen televisions. Detail is rich during close ups, whilst open shots exhibit a slight softness at times.
Two audio tracks are available: Korean DD2.0 and Korean 5.1 Surround. The latter makes good use of the soundstage, coming across as aggressive during some of the tense chase sequences, backed by Kenji Kawai’s impressive score as he follows on from composing last year’s Antarctic Journal. Dialogue is also well reared though it takes up most of the central and front channels.
Optional English subtitles are included and good lord they’re a mess, perhaps the worst I’ve seen on a Korean DVD from recent memory. The entire track is riddled with grammatical errors, awful sentence structuring and lines of dialogue that just don’t make sense. The middle portion of the film begins to even out a little, but then it gets back to being quite poor by the end. It’s a functional stream and you can get the gist of what’s going on, but I will place bets that there’s no way this is an accurate translation; this kind of thing ruins the enjoyment somewhat and I’ll be interested in seeing this film again as done by professionals in future.
Disc 1 contains an audio commentary including several participants, along with a short video after commentary.
Disc 2 opens with a two and a half minute introduction by Kim Sung-soo, which can’t be skipped, though it can be forwarded. Pleasantly the menu contains English translations for each section. Starting with “Pre-Production” (6.26) the cast and crew members sit around a table and go though the script and storyboards; we also see audition footage from different actors and go on location scouting. While this is happening Kim Sung-soo discusses certain aspects over the top of what we see. “Characterizing” (7.00) is up next. Of course this is self explanatory but I’m not sure who the people discussing the characters are - possibly casting director and a producer. Ace detective work. “Making Of” (25.50) is a decent look behind the scenes, but it does feature a lot of interview footage, which breaks things up immensely for non Korean speakers. What stuff we do see is interesting enough, from a few jokey moments to stunts being carried out. “Action Sequence” is quite lengthy at twenty five minutes. Consisting of five chapters it features production of the opening chase sequence, the golf range and car park fights, the rural field chase and the climactic showdown. “CG Making” (5.05) is very reminiscent of the feature that appeared on Bad Boys II. The director discusses the opening chase which uses CG cars to enhance the scene, and it’s done very discreetly. He also talks about scenes in which CG is used to carry out impossible camera shots. Subtle background shots have also been inserted throughout. Kenji Kawai is interviewed for the “Original Score Making” (5.21), where we also take a look behind the scenes of recording. It’s far too brief to get an understanding of the overall process. “Still Gallery” features a three minute moving selection of photos from the movie, while the second batch shows behind the scene shots, accompanied by overlaying credits. “Deleted Scenes” includes three time-coded scenes that can be viewed with or without director commentary. “Poster” (7.01) is actually a look at the promo campaign shoot, which if you’ve already seen a few before you’ll have a good understanding of what things are like here. “Preview” (6.00) is a special screening in which we see screaming fans and the actors get through a media frenzied showing of the film. There’s also footage of director and stars addressing the audience briefly. The theatrical trailer and a music video are standard inclusions, while the final piece, “Director’s Short Film” is perhaps the most interesting extra in the set. I really wish I could comment on them, but there are no subtitles. It’s a great shame because in the past I’ve found subtitled shorts on Korean DVDs. Here we get the 1995 Insert Coin which is riddled with dirt and scratches and seems to contain several stories revolving around the same characters.
There’s very little else to say in the end. Running Wild is a good film that sticks to a good pace, given that it’s fairly lengthy, but there’s very little substance to it all in all. With that said the performances are top notch and Sung-soo shows a lot of promise, despite lacking a little discipline in certain areas. Surely a director to look out for in future; I believe his best is yet to come. As for the disc itself it’s a great release except for the crucial thing, the subtitles, being pretty dreadful.