Wild Card is an atypical cop drama, almost a procedural, lent novelty and substance by its setting and the depth of its characterisation.

In an initial voiceover we meet Je-Su (Yang Dong-kun), a young policeman, as he chases across a park after a suspect: "They run, we chase them. Running is no use. Korea is surrounded by sea, except for the north, which is guarded by 60,000 soldiers". The chase is at the heart of the film.

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After a brutal attack on the subway, Criminal Team 3 are assigned to the case. As bodies mount up they become more and more involved in the hunt, seeking to bring the perpetrators to justice; they aren't judges, just policemen. The team is led by a Lieutenant, "Biannual", who would arrest one criminal on the way to work and two on the way home. His role is mainly administrative, the investigative heart of the team is Detective Oh, 'The Bulldozer', played by Jeong Jin-yeong. Under investigation for excessive force, he's the titular 'wild card', or so it would seem.

This is an exciting film, with an almost Seventies feel. The cops have nicknames, they've got bad leather jackets, there's a phsyicality to their interactions with the criminal classes, literally in fact; more heads are smacked and ears clipped than in an Oor Wullie annual. There's flirting that borders on harassment, charming family moments, a few close calls and some more lucky breaks. All standard cop fare, but all ably shot for director Kim Yu-jin and well written by Lee Man-hui.

The various chases, stakeouts, stings are all well executed, and the criminals they hunt are nasty work; not quite an Alex and his droogs for the Korean peninsula, more uncaring predators. We're not given much backstory for them or much justification. It doesn't matter. We're here to see them caught, not find out what made them. That said, we do see them at work. The subway attack is brutal, but the sequence in a karaoke bar is truly harrowing, almost on a par with Funny Games.

There's sometimes the danger that it will fall into cliche: the seeming dead weight on the team in the form of Chil-Soon, the long-suffering police-man's wife, the usual mixture of disapproving brass and petty regulations. There are flamboyant gangsters, a chase on foot that manages to have the usual sets of things in front of the participants for them to knock over, even a few buddy movie moments. It doesn't matter; seen through the lens of modern Korea these aren't hack moments, these are just old stories; "They run, we chase them" writ again and again.

The subtitling is good, with a couple of neat touches that manage to convey extra meaning that would otherwise be lost in translation. While lacking the kind of playful accuracy seen in Day Watch it's still well done. With a story this solid it would usually be the case that a Hollywood remake was on the horizon; however, one key element is the almost total absence of gunplay. From the start, Detective Oh is under investigation for excessive force because he shot at a fleeing suspect. Given Dirty Harry et al, that seems harder to translate. As such, it's certainly best to catch it in the original. Wild Card's value may not be fixed, but it's high.

Reviewed on: 15 Nov 2008
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Wild Card packshot
A rookie cop and a force veteran team up to investigate a string of serial killings.
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Director: Kim Yu-jin

Writer: Lee Man-hui

Starring: Yang Dong-kun, Jeong Jin-yeong, Han Chae-young, Kim Myoung-gook, You Ha-bok, Yum

Year: 2003

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


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