This is one film that takes after its name, and a little over two hours of this intense police drama by director screenwriter Kim Seong-soo and I kind of felt like someone had run wild all over me.
Not that it isn’t a well crafted piece of cinema, with the set-up of both character and narrative really paying off in the second half of the film, the pace almost never letting up, and the main cast meeting like a head on collision. Jang Do-young (Kwon Sang-woo — Volcano High, Make it Big, Almost Love) is not your average cop, unless your average cop stops bad guys on motorcycles from getting away by running them down, and then beating them into submission with handy newsprint stands. He gets the job done the way Charles Bronson used to — with extreme prejudice. Prosecutor Oh Jin-woo (Yoo Ji-tae — Attack the Gas Station, One Fine Spring Day, Old Boy) is almost the exact opposite; cool, calm and clinical, taking down bad guys with well timed under-cover coups and the exacting arm of the law. Of course, he’s making about as many friends as Jang is, and his life is nearly as much of a mess, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Enter into the picture the charming, chilling Yu Kang-jin (Son Byeong-ho — Oasis, Spider Forest), recently released from prison and trying to make a go of it in the political arena. Both Jang and Oh immediately have one more thing in common — the burning desire to put Yu back behind bars. Considering the terrifying lengths Yu is capable of going to in order to get what he wants, all with a smile your mother would probably trust, it’s not a bad goal to have.
So far, all this might sound like a formula for a standard crime thriller, right? Well, that’s because it is, but Running Wild shifts to unexpected depths after Jang and Oh finally cross paths, turning to a darker trajectory that is perhaps surprising considering it’s almost formulaic elements. Oh sees Jang for what he is — a rabid dog of a cop who will never be bought or bullied — and recognises that it would be better to use him than let him keep running around without a leash. Jang, for his part, sees Oh in another light; his clean-cut looks and his clean-cut job are worlds away from the reality on the streets, but Oh is in a position to hand the discredited Jang the information he needs in order to get closer to Yu. Both men, as is the way in these buddy crime thrillers, find a grudging respect for each other over cheap so-ju and a lighter that never works, and team up to take the bad guy down.
But they are perhaps two extremes at polar ends of the spectrum and between them, walking the smooth middle path of crime-lord and citizen, Yu is in complete control of both himself and his situation. Jang and Yoo might be working obsessively to put Yu away, but in the process they are rubbing off on each other and it is almost like a contamination. Their individual strengths are being diluted merely by the contact, while Yu remains pure of purpose and at peace with himself and his intended place in the world. As expected, it can’t end well.
And as also might be expected from this cast, performances are good, although far from subtle, at least in Kwon’s case. Better known for his teen heartthrob status, he delivers a mostly convincing rapidly deteriorating good-bad cop Jang, while Yoo is solid and constant as his Armani-suited prosecuting attorney starts fraying around the edges. However, it is really Son who makes this film; his mild, murderous mob-boss, while not precisely likeable, is certainly due some respect. It’s his powerful and subtle performance, the occasional disturbing glimpses beneath his cultured surface and his polite, ruthless demeanour that provides the sounding board for Kwan and Yoo. With Kim’s tense, unremitting script and some hard direction (give or take a few Old Boy-esque, reality TV fight scenes that dolly across the screen in nice long lines and seem to be popping up everywhere nowadays), and the characters’ inevitable crash and burn, Running Wild is a headlong rush and one ride that definitely earns its name.