Do you want to see something refreshing, exotic, and yet oddly familiar? I give you Illang: The Wolf Brigade, an espionage thriller masquerading as an action science fiction film. When I read the title of this movie I thought it’s going to be about this special unit. However, after the first half an hour we focus on its leader Im Joong-kyung and the sprawling conspiracy he gets caught up in. As the story unfolds, the lack of any real material starts to become more and more apparent. The final third of this two and half hour epic is so cartoonish and silly that you will wonder are watching the same movie. Mostly because the first part was so engaging and interesting. It poses a question of what would happen if North and South Korea would unite in the future?
Illang The Wolf Brigade has a distinctive visual style that I can best describe as retro-futuristic. It’s based on an animated movie Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade that is, of course, based on manga Kerberos Panzer Cop. Since this is basically an adaptation of an adaptation, it feels somewhat disjointed and without a clear direction. The only thing that binds the story is the very appealing cinematography. The production values and camerawork are top-notch, rivaling any Hollywood movie. This is something that shouldn’t surprise us as South Korea has been making these big-budget movies for quite some time now. They are a perfect piece of escapism for Western audiences providing captivating stories and strong visuals. And despite all the flaws I list here, I did enjoy the movie.
It is the year of our lord Satan 2029 and amidst global tensions, North and South Korea decide to unify. However, a secret organization known as the Sect starts attacking the process. They are fighting against the unification efforts with weapons and bombs. The ordinary police are helpless against them so the government decides to make a special unit. Illang or The Wolf Brigade is a unit comprised of the best soldiers equipped with heavy weapons and body armor. Ruthless and feared by all, they dispatch terrorists with ease. After a horrible incident, their leader, Im Joong-kyung is overcome with sorrow and regret. He can’t seem to find a way to get over it. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, all sorts of secret plots, schemes and other shit is going down. And poor Im will find himself right in the middle of it all.
The soldiers in a unit that feels like it’s straight from the set of Universal Soldier have really distinctive armor. The style they were going for is a futuristic retro Nazi exploitation killer robot. Add to this a bit of Darth Vader and you’ve got your Illang, The Wolf Brigade. If you played Battlefield 1 while wearing an Elite Class armor you’ll know exactly how it feels. This entire movie is like a multilayered cake with distinct flavors. The first layer is the unit and this is the action-packed part of the movie. Then we move to the story about the secret schemes. Next up we have the romance between Im and Lee. And finally, we come full circle smashing all these concepts together. However, as I already mentioned, all these parts feel somewhat unconnected.
I so wished they would stay on the whole unification efforts and the intrigue behind it. That element of the story had the most potency. What we ended up with is a confusing storyline that’s quite difficult to follow. The characters also seem too dull and one-dimensional. I get the whole brooding thing but you have to break it up with something! This is a movie that’s coasting purely on vibes and it manages to do so for freaking two hours. So, just don’t expect wonders and you’ll be fine, I guess. If you’re looking for more good South Korean science fiction movies check out Space Sweepers and Sector 7.
Director: Jee-woon Kim
Writer: Jee-woon Kim, Mamoru Oshii
Cast: Dong-won Gang, Han Hyo-joo, Jung Woo-sung, Yeri Han, Choi Minho, Joon-ho Huh, Choi Jin-ho