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(Movie Review) 'Howling' resonates with fringe emotions

All Headlines 09:35 February 09, 2012

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, Feb. 9 (Yonhap) - "Howling" is the Korean film adaptation of Japanese writer Asa Nonami's best-selling novel "Fang Freezing."

Little is known about the book here. Nonami's book about two police detectives teaming up to uncover secrets behind a strange type of serial killer -- a wolf with some dog's blood -- sold more than 1 million copies in Japan in the 1990s.

Adapted for the screen and directed by poet-turned-movie director Yoo Ha, the movie is close to a drama rather than a crime thriller.

In the new film, the director of "Spirit of Jeet Keun Do" (2004), "A Dirty Carnival" (2006) and "Frozen Flower (Ssang-hwa-jeom)" (2008) again featured social minorities or marginal people in urban areas.

"Howling" focuses more on individuals vulnerable to social violence rather than the episode itself. So, you may be a bit disappointed if you expect a spectacular crime thriller.

Both of the key roles, Sang-gil and Eun-yeong, are outcasts who have a weak presence both at home and work. Sang-gil (Song Gang-ho) is an uncompetitive middle-aged police detective dealing with violent crimes. He was abandoned by his wife and gets no respect, including from his rebellious teenager son. Actress Lee Na-young plays the callow young policewoman Eun-yeong. She divorced mainly due to her irregular life pattern as a cop and has no family. At work, Eun-yeong is isolated by her mostly male co-workers in the police investigative section due to her gender.

The two human characters are unhappy about each other and at times in conflict at the beginning but come to understand and help each other at the end.

In the same way, the third protagonist, Jilpung, fails to fit in as a half-wolf and half-dog.

Jilpung came into the possession of a new master after his wolf-dog mother trained by hoodlums for illegal dog fighting was killed when he was a pup. The poor animal is then raised to kill humans. Even though killing cannot be justified, the dog is also a victim.

Director Yoo easily blends his theme -- the heart-to-heart communication between the lonely female detective and the animal -- into a crime thriller. The movie is superior entertainment compared to Nonami's book.

But Yoo's storytelling is so kind that the audience can easily predict who is the culprit and who is the next victim. The movie is also nowhere near as scary as well-made monster films.

Despite these shortcomings, movies like this have significance in that they give a fresh experience to audiences familiar with male detective-duo movies. "Howling" centers around the dysfunctional relationship between the two detectives: one, a middle-aged loner; the other, a neat, young female. Moreover, the main lead is actually the woman, Eun-yeong, which is rare for any detective flick.

The dog played by actual wolf-dog Sirasoni is a fine-looking, intelligent animal so good at displaying its fangs and looking deeply into the eyes of the female protagonist that the cold stare of the lonely beast is hard to forget.

The movie opens at local theaters on Feb. 16.


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