Dedicated cop Jang Do-Young and driven prosecutor Oh Jin-Woo have two very different ideas about justice.
Jang is the kind of cop who has no qualms about beating a suspect to a bloody pulp to secure a confession. He often throws himself mindlessly into a fight against an entire gang of thugs, with little regard for his own well-being, rather than calling for backup. Oh, on the other hand insist on following the law to the letter, even though that often means putting guilty people back on the street, because of lack of evidence. Once he tried to take down a major crime boss, but he failed and suffered an almost crippling career setback. He only recently returned to the big league. This time he's determined not to make the same mistake again.
Enter Yoo Kang-Jin, head of the Dokang gangster family. He is being released from prison amidst claims that he has turned away from crime, and now intends to devout his life to charity work. Naturally that's not exactly true. Jang knows this. So does Oh.
They both go after Yoo, for different reasons and with different methods. Before long, they run into each other. Even though they butt heads from the very first time they meet, they soon realize that they want the same thing: Yoo's head on a platter. Oh is the first one to extend his hand and suggest a truce. He offers Jang a job on his team. Together, he reasons, they'll have what it takes to bring down Yoo. Unfortunately both Jang and Oh have underestimated Yoo. He's got more cards up his sleeve than they could possibly imagine. Have they bitten off more than they can chew, or will justice finally be served?
The golden age of modern Hong Kong cinema was dominated by a genre known as heroic bloodshed. The films of this genre dealt with honorable men fighting for justice against impossible odds. They often lose and they often end up dead in the end. In its heyday, this genre was frequented by the best of the best - John Woo, Ringo Lam and Chow Yun-Fat, producing legendary efforts such as "A Better Tomorrow", "City on Fire" and "The Killer" - but these days, true heroic bloodshed movies are hard to come by. "Running Wild", however, could be characterized as a new age heroic bloodshed movie. A few things have changed, since the old days. Gone is the bullet ballet - the slow motion rapid firing twin guns - gone is the shower of empty shells that follow our hero wherever he goes, but the essence remains intact.
The predominant theme in "Running Wild" is the nature of justice. What is justice, anyway? Is it anything more than an empty word, used by the powerful against the powerless, to induce a glimmer of false hope?
During the first part of the film, the story moves back and forth between Jang and Oh. In one sequence director Kim Sung-soo even goes as far as actually splitting the screen in two, so we can see the methods in a side-by-side comparison. I usually hate gimmicky stunts like that, but I must admit that the style works quite well here. To juxtapose mad beatings in back alleys with chilly showdowns between suits in plush offices works very well, and it certainly gives you food for thought. But in the midst of this comparison "Running Wild" proposes the disturbing idea that maybe neither method will work. Maybe justice isn't for everyone. That, more than anything, is why the film is so uncomfortably effective.
On top of that the film is, of course, bloody stylish, filled with plenty of inventive camera work and a few truly outstanding moments. I also have to mention the beautiful score, that shifts between two themes. The sad and regretful dramatic theme, and - in sharp contrast - the fiery and defiant action piece. Which one will win out in the end? Will our heroes prevail, or will they falter? Just how much of the heroic bloodshed mantra has the film adopted?
The driving force in "Running Wild" is the two lead characters. Jang and Oh are so different, but they understand each others frustration. It's great to watch these two characters grow and develop a bond, especially considering how they react when they first meet.
Kwan Sang-woo plays Jang as an over-the-top renegade cop of the kind you'd expect to see in a comedy, though of course the character is stripped of any actual comical moments. It's almost too much. Every time he does his thing, the film is on the verge of losing all credibility. It's just not believable that he would beat a suspect INSIDE the interrogation room, he should know he's being videotaped, it's also slightly unbelievable that he hasn't been fired years ago for his erratic behaviour. The character should have been toned down a notch, and it would also help is he wasn't so untidy and looked a little less like a bum.
Yoo Ji-tae on the other hand fares much better as Oh. His recent string of successes - "Into The Mirror", "Natural City", "Old Boy" and "Antarctic Journal" - makes him one of the most reliable actors in contemporary Korean cinema, and this is another opportunity for him to shine. Oh is calm, quiet and looks very composed, but every so often we get to see what he looks like behind the mask. Ji-tae plays the character perfectly and even gets to deliver a spectacular "this whole court is out of order"-speach in one of the film's climactic scenes.
I really enjoyed "Running Wild". It's not groundbreaking in any way, it doesn't really show us anything we haven't seen before, and it doesn't reinvent the genre. It is, however, good solid entertainment. It perfectly hones in on that burning sense of injustice that we're all familiar with in one form or another, and I found it impossible not to get all riled up, as the film slowly pushes its characters towards the abyss.
"Running Wild" may not appeal to the impatient newcomer to Asian cinema, hellbent on discovering the next "Old Boy" before everybody else, but those who truly appreciate the essence of Korean cinema will most likely find this worth their while. In short, this is a good looking, well-made film, with a thought-provoking central premise: The fact that justice may be blind, but often it's stupid and ignorant too.