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The Wild - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Deo wa-il-deu

South Korea 2023

Crime, Drama

Kim Bong-han

Park Sung-woong
Oh Dae-hwan
Seo Ji-hye
Oh Dal-soo
Joo Suk-tae
Hwang Se-in
Won Woo

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The Wild

The Wild - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Woo-cheol (Park Sung-woong) has spent seven years in prison for his boss Do-shik (Oh Dae-hwan) because of manslaughter. In an illegal boxing match, with a lot of betting involved, Woo-cheol accidentally killed his opponent. Now Do-shik tries to give his old friend a lucrative position in his gang, but instead Woo-cheol wants to live a quiet life. However, escort girl Myeong-joo (Seo Ji-hye) is waiting for him at his hotel. He wants to send her back home, but she stays because another customer named Jeong-gon (Joo Suk-tae) is looking for her and he is extremely violent and presumably knows where she lives. Jeong-gon actually works with the gangster boss Do-shik and is addicted to heroin, which is why he is quite a risk for Do-shik at the moment. Since Jeong-gon doesn't let go and seeks out Myeong-joo again, which Woo-cheol finds out, the ex-prisoner beats him up. He then finds out that Do-shik's drug-addicted business partner is actually a police officer. Woo-cheol got himself into trouble and is forced to work for his former boss again in order to do damage control. He also has his hands full as Do-shik has a drug deal going on with a group of North Korean refugees led by Ri Gak-so (Oh Dal-su), a deal which is at risk of falling through.

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Review: "The Wild" is a Korean gangster drama, as we have seen countless times before, at least that's the first impression. The story of the ex-gangster who went to prison for his boss and then wants to live a quiet life afterwards (which of course he is not allowed to) was also recently put on screen in an unconvincing way with "A Man of Reason". Nevertheless, you shouldn't write off "The Wild" just yet because the numerous alliances that are forged and the betrayal that lurks around every corner sometimes remind you of successful representatives of the genre such as "A Dirty Carnival". That's why, despite its often predictable story, the movie is quite gripping most of the time; the flow of events never stops. Towards the end, you might even be surprised at how complex the story turns out to be, if you were only judging it by the connections between the different characters. So, for a typical genre entry, I don't think there's much to complain about here.

The Wild - Film Screenshot 5

On closer inspection, though, "The Wild" isn't quite that typical. While the hero of the story may experience a romance that is quite common in the genre, it's not just his protective instinct that makes him win over Myeong-joo. In fact, in one particular scene, she is just as shocked by his sudden, merciless behavior as the viewer is. At this point, we realize that Woo-cheol is not simply the reformed gangster who wants a peaceful life, but that he is still the thug or boxer known by the ring name "The Wild". This facet is an unexpected bonus of the story, as it gives the character an implied depth. So does his guilty conscience for having killed his opponent seven years ago. Actor Park Sung-woong ("Gentleman") deserves a lot of praise here, because, obviously, his character is rather introverted - unless the "animal" in him breaks out -, but due to his nuanced acting he still manages to create interest in Woo-cheol, which can't be said about eighty percent of other genre representatives. Sure, the implied love story does its fair share as well.

The Wild - Film Screenshot 6

But the little romance is also a problem. Initially, it works quite well. The age difference may be irritating at first, but the circumstances that lead to the escort girl and the (ex-)gangster getting closer are believable enough. They are reasonably connected by their grief and tragic fate. They give each other support and represent a ray of hope in each other's lives. The only problem is that with the later entanglements, Myeong-joo turns more and more into a pawn in the hands of the powerful, and her character becomes flatter and flatter over time. Towards the end, almost all interest in the romance has faded away and you get the impression that an important cornerstone of the story has broken away, so that the inevitable drama is not as effective as it was meant to be. Same kind of goes for the relationship between the hero and the gangster boss. There's definitely some good chemistry, but the two don't just move apart as intended by the story, but ultimately just become cogs in the plot. But Oh Dae-hwan ("Devils") still manages to show the charisma needed in some moments, which prevents the boss from turning into a cliché.

The Wild - Film Screenshot 7

Acting-wise, however, Oh Dal-su ("The Show must go on") steals everyone else the show. The story about the drug-smuggling North Koreans could have come across as a boring insertion that was just there for the finale, but he manages to give this plotline more substance. This way, the North Koreans are not just another party that you have to remember if you want to see through the web that is woven towards the end and in which everyone seems to betray everyone. Unfortunately, at some point the shifts in power take on such big proportions that we are almost no longer interested in finding out who is on whose side, because we were simply led on a merry chase one too many times. You can also criticize the fact that even Myeong-joo's background is forcedly made to fit the bigger picture, since everyone is somehow connected to each other by their past, even though it only comes out later - thankfully not in the shape of too many flashbacks. So, it's fair to say that things turn out a bit exaggerated here and that it harms the story's credibility. But it's still gripping.

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Next to that, you won't find a lot of action in "The Wild". Woo-cheol is still an excellent boxer, which is proven to us in a few scenes, but the fact that director Kim Bong-han ("The Golden Holiday") doesn't see the need to intersperse well-choreographed fights, speaks for his self-confidence and also suits the flick. Overall, the movie thrives on its characters and their emotional connections, and it works. Unfortunately, in the last half hour, that's exactly what begins to fade into the background when everyone wants to frame everyone, and there are numerous betrayals that should actually be obvious to those affected pretty early on. That's a pity, especially since the story also gets lost in genre clichés at this point. Nonetheless, the ending itself is surprisingly well done and shows once again that "The Wild" could have become a really outstanding gangster drama, if everything you expect from such a movie hadn't been increased almost exponentially to outright ridiculousness at the end.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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