Oct 31, 2018
Welcome back to Worldwide Wednesdays! Today, we have another live-action adaptation of a Japanese animation classic, but transplanted to the Korean peninsula in the near future. For a few other films from South Korea, check out “Forgotten” (Episode #062), “Steel Rain” (Episode #087), “The Handmaiden” (Episode #122), and “Psychokinesis” (Episode #124). For other live-action anime adaptations, check out “Bleach” (Episode #262), “FullMetal Alchemist” (Episode #058) and “Gintama” (Episode #206). And if you have any suggestions, let me know at onemoviepunch.com or reach out over social media.
Oh, and Happy Halloween!
Today’s movie is “Illang: The Wolf Brigade” (2018), the Netflix Original near-future Korean science-fiction epic, written and directed by Kim Jee-woon, based on the anime by Mamoru Oshii, the driving force behind “Ghost in the Shell”. The film is set on the Korean Peninsula in 2029, when a five-year plan to reunify the two Koreas is under threat by an anti-unification terrorist group. Now Im Joong-Kyung (Gang Dong-won), a conflicted member of The Wolf Brigade, must hunt down this group while also discovering another threat towards reunification.
I can’t help but think of this film in the context of the recent efforts towards Korean reunification. The recent peace talks and photo opportunities have been a welcome step forward for the peninsula, and even a cursory look at politics will show us that the split between the Koreas has been opposed by nearly all Koreans, and actively supported by the superpowers in the region for whatever geopolitical reasons. It’s what I admired most about the introduction to “Illang: The Wolf Brigade”, describing the latest reunification efforts being at risk by the same superpowers. Seeing geopolitics from the point of view of a proxy country is not a perspective most folks in the United States have, and it was refreshing to see given recent events.
World-building is a key strength of this film. “Illang: The Wolf Brigade” opens with a riot between anti-reunification protestors and a surprisingly disciplined police force, which quickly turns chaotic and deadly for everyone involved, and forces our protagonist to question his service in the Brigade and the effects on the people. We learn quickly there is no clear definition of black and white, just an unstable and multifaceted political situation with players and pawns unsure of their positions. It was a key element of the Oshii’s original work in the Kerberos Saga, and I was impressed how well it transplanted into this time and place. The rest of the film is a wonderful exercise in further developing this world, which felt more and more real as it progressed, with great hand-to-hand and gun-fu choreography, awesome stunt work, and a great first-person shooter deathmatch towards the end.
If there’s any serious criticism of this film, it is the two hour and nineteen-minute running time, a daunting ask for anyone who isn’t a fan of near-future, dystopian political thrillers where no one really wins in the end, and the best we get is going back to a new form of the dismally oppressive normal. However, I do think it’s a great meditation on the powers and authority we give to the various levels of security forces within the United States, and the injustices that have occurred more frequently in the past few years. All that social privilege comes with a certain amount of power and influence that we need to make sure stays properly checked, before we end up in the same place in 2029. Or before.
“Illang: The Wolf Brigade” (2018) is a transplanted adaptation of Oshii’s Kerberos Saga, set on the Korean peninsula in the near-future, but maintaining the same level of politics and espionage coupled with great action. While slightly longer than most movie fans may be willing to invest, it does pay off in major ways, and does a great deal to increase my trust of future live-action anime adaptations. Fans of live-action anime adaptations, or fans of Oshii’s work, should definitely check out this film, along with any science-fiction fans looking for a new perspective on geopolitics.
Rotten Tomatoes: NR
One Movie Punch: 8.0/10
“Illang: The Wolf Brigade” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is currently streaming on Netflix.