Busan Film Review: ‘Illang: The Wolf Brigade’

Five years after “The Last Stand” — Korean director Kim Jee-woon’s one-off attempt at American filmmaking, a throwaway shoot-’em-up co-starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Johnny Knoxville — Kim is back home, applying what he learned in Hollywood to anime adaptation “Illang: The Wolf Brigade.” An obsidian-black sci-fi thriller all but consumed with corruption of the state and of the soul, the film opens stunningly enough, reminiscent of such late-’80s comics-to-screen transfers as Tim Burton’s “Batman” and the original “RoboCop” in its darkly atmospheric depiction of a grim near-future, but it gets confusing quick and never quite regains the promise of its first half-hour — which accounts for a disappointing local performance (“Illang” did fewer than one million admissions last summer in South Korea).

But that’s not the end of the road for “Illang,” which will next head to Netflix in all other territories. There, it may find a cult following, considering that the sharp-looking film boasts some of the most spectacular set pieces — including a stunning climactic showdown in which a steel-clad killing machine blasts his way through sewer tunnels crawling with dirty cops — that audiences are likely to find on the streaming service this fall. Action comes easy to Korean director Kim; it’s actors that he doesn’t always know what to do with. Ironically, that makes “Illang” a rather ideal project, at least on paper.

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