Sunday 23 December 2018

Illang: The Wolf Brigade (2018) - Movie Review media born from one culture to the tastes of another requires more than simple copy-and-pasting. In order to make it convincing that there is a reason why a particular story is being reframed and reshipped to different territories, sometimes changes need to be made. It can involve relatively minor changes, like replacing some of the aspects of Watchmen, or it can be a lot more thorough, like the complete political shifts in V For Vendetta. This film, closing out today’s triumvirate of live-action anime adaptations, is a South Korean take on a piece of Japanese animated cinema. The results are… mixed.

For the most part, it follows the main conceits of the original, this case being Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. It’s a political thriller involving a lot of murky alliances, plenty of double and triple-crosses, all set against a societal landscape that keeps even the surface tensions high in the conflict between the government-sanctioned Special Unit and the riotous Sect. It also uses the story of Little Red Riding Hood as allegory, with the underage soldiers carrying bombs referred to as Red Riding Hoods and the secret force working inside of the Special Unit called the Wolf Brigade. It’s quite convoluted, and the fairy tale allusions can get very on-the-nose, but as far as the story being told between the lines, it still fits… which is what makes the changes here a bit confusing.

The original was a piece of alternate history fiction, taking place in post-World War II Japan where Germany had until recently occupied the country. It drew on real-life tensions regarding the fallout from the United States occupation of Japan to tell its story about terrorism, peacekeepers and whether one truly justified the actions of the other. This one is instead set in near-future Korea, where North and South Korea have reluctantly united in the wake of China’s attempts to claim global power. Admittedly, it doesn’t need to be set in the future as the idea of a reunified Korea is already wildly fantastical as is, but in that switch, the story has become the conflict between the government and the Sect, who are against said unification.

It’s an interesting idea, one that definitely draws from some modern-day political notions, but it ultimately doesn’t work as well as it could. Partly because the change in scenery doesn’t carry the same politically-nuanced air to it, but mainly because this isn’t so much a thriller as it is an action drama. The biggest change made here is the increase in action scenes, and while they are quite well made and presented, they end up making the convoluted plot feel like an excuse just to string them together. That is a pretty neat trick, making the audience question the aspect of the film that existed before the one that made it seem out-of-place, but not one that comes to the film’s aid.

In fairness, the original isn’t exactly a flawless work, as its aspirations as historical commentary end up sabotaged by the rather crushing pace. And the action scenes definitely help with that here, but ultimately, the changes made from the original end up robbing this iteration of some of that version’s most powerful notions. Variety is a good thing, but not if it means less of what the people might actually want.

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