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South Korea 2012


Yu Ha

Song Kang-ho
Lee Na-yeong
Jang In-ho
Jo Young-jin
Jin Jeong
Jeong In-gi
Lee Min-ho
Lee Sung-min
Nam Bo-ra
Sin Jeong-geun

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Story: A strange case is keeping Seoul's police busy. A man burnt up in his car and there are also some bite marks of a dog or a wolf on the victim. At first detective Sang-gil (Song Kang-ho) isn't interested in the case at all since he believes that this is a simple suicide. He is even more annoyed by the fact that he gets a new female partner. Eun-young (Lee Na-yeong) has to struggle standing her ground in her profession dominated by men anyway but to make matters worse Sang-gil is very traditional and thinks that a woman's place is at home in the kitchen. When another dead body turns up that shows the same bite marks as the first victim it seems to be clear that they have to deal with a serial killer. Sang-gil was passed over during the last promotion and so he keeps his investigation progress a secret from his team in order to solve the case alone in the end and finally get his well-deversed promotion. But even with the helping hand of his new colleague the investigation starts to become bigger than what he can handle and the case attracts increasing attention.

Review: One of the most promising Korean movies of the year 2012 surely was Yu Ha's "Howling". Sadly, his thriller also proves to be one of the biggest disappointments of the year and the worst movie of the director to date. In all objectivity this doesn't really make "Howling" a bad film. But from someone like Yu Ha you should expect more than just mediocrity. The reason for this disappointment is the rather lifeless world of the thriller and two characters, who would have had the potential to be way more than what we get in the end. A movie full of good opportunities that are passed up and a shocking amount of clichés. However, the saddest misconduct of the movie is the thrilling factor that constantly decreases.

Director Yu Ha could display a continuous improvement of quality in his films. His "A Frozen Flower" could tell an extraordinary story with great sets and good drama. With "A Dirty Carnival" he could prove that he can also deliver convincing work in the mafia/thriller genre. But "Howling", based on a Japanese novel by Asa Nonami, is sloppily written and more importantly can't draw the three-dimensional characters that we are used to see in Yu's films. Anyway, the worst thing is once again the depiction of the police. A whole team of law enforcement officials isn't capable of doing a clean raid, lets the suspect escape and even can't do anything but watch another victim biting the dust. This is really just too much.

There are many moments that make you slap your forehead. Especially when it comes to Sang-gil who is a misogynist and tells Eun-young very clearly that she has to remain within certain boundaries in this profession dominated by men and shouldn't step on anybody's toes. At the same time he forces her to keep their progress a secret from her team colleagues and superiors. Sang-gil is an odd figure anyway. Of course he eventually learns to hold his colleague in high regard and tries to stick up for her but that's just what makes his initial and very strong feeling of antipathy towards her feel very forced. Even the more when she helps him during a bust and by accident hits him with a taser. Why he complains isn't comprehensible at all as this actually wasn't her fault and without her help the suspect even would have gotten away. This kind of stuff happens a lot.

Song Kang-ho could portray better detectives before but he still has a great on-screen presence. Unfortunately, his character isn't fleshed out. He has some issues with his son, his wife left him, but just when we start to get interested in his background story it is already dropped. It's even more of a pity when it comes to Lee Na-yeong ("Maundy Thursday", "Dream") as she always remains very shallow and cold. Song and Lee could have made up for a perfect team on screen and that's just were Yu Ha gives away the biggest strength of his film. To be honest the two actors are easily replaceable by anyone and at some point you even start to like the wolfdog more than anyone of the other characters.

While at the beginning the answers in the murder case are hidden behind a thick fog and something mysterious is surrounding the case the questions more and more dissolve into names and an investigation that is only moderately thrilling. When things become more action-centered towards the end the movie's quality also continues to drop. The chasing of a wolf on the streets for hours isn't nearly as exciting as Yu Ha might have imagined it. The very heavily used soundtrack doesn't change that either. The scenes are too repetitive and have too little essence to them. At the end you have to ask yourself why the tension constantly had to drop in "Howling". As a mediocre thriller you may give this movie a chance since it is solid in technical respects, but fans of Yu Ha will be utterly disappointed.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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