HOWLING (2012) – no relation to Joe Dante’s classic The Howling, this Korean thriller is what you’d get if The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo got a pet White Dog, instead. The result is the kind of genre mash-up you’d never get in Hollywood, but which works really well if taken on its own strange terms. Song Kang-Ho (The Host) is a cop who’s always passed over for promotions because he’s something of an idiot. When his unit gets a lady cop assigned to them (romantic comedy star, Lee Na-Young) he’s stuck babysitting her because, let’s face it, lady cops are only good for making tea and filling out everyone’s expense forms, right? She’s a double pain in the butt because their new case is an awesome spontaneous combustion murder, which ties in with a child prostitution ring, and also someone is using trained wolves to rip out the throats of a series of really awful guys. It would be an exciting time to be Song Kang-Ho if he didn’t have a dumb girl tagging along.
Director Yu Ha is one of Korea’s most reliable genre directors, and no matter how unrealistic the movie’s plot gets, he manages to sell every baroque twist with his brisk, efficient camerawork and the layered, no-nonsense performances from his cast. As the movie heads down a byzantine trail, the setpieces become more and more gothic and the proceedings get tinged with a sympathy for the monster vibe that feels like one part King Kong and one part Frankenstein. But amidst all its throat-rippings, death-by-burnings, secret child-sex hideouts, wolf attacks, and glossy, lacquered night time textures, it keeps its focus firmly on the most isolated monster of all: a tough female cop, trying to survive in a world where every single man hates her and wants her to fail. Strangely moving, this is the currently-trendy northern European goth thriller transplanted to South Korea with unexpectedly powerful results. (Watch it!)