November 9, 2013

Howling: A Wolf Is a Woman's Worst Friend

I'm not sure writer-director Yoo Ha totally understands dog psychology. In his mongrel murder mystery Howling, the vigilante K-9 trainer (Jo Young-jin) and his emotionally stunted daughter (Nam Bo-ra) seem to hold dogs in too high esteem! They think their beloved pet Jil-poong is a mind-reader capable of assassinating bad guys from intuited commands. Contrast that perplexing perspective with the low regard held by the homicide department. These cops consider dogs completely unpredictable -- is this one a killer without provocation? an informant that might lead them to the killer? or a humanoid creature doomed to run on all fours as he stares at mankind with all-knowing and piercing blue eyes? I suppose you could argue that any inaccuracies in this animal portrait have to do with Jil-poong's unusual pedigree: He's half wolf! But Yoo's shortcomings as a cinematic behaviorist don't end with his canine characterization. Take a look at how he portrays his human heroine.

Detective Eun-young (Lee Na-yeong) is an independent type who does her best work when she's left to her own devices. In group settings, however, she tends to grovel and seek unneeded backup from people who don't want to help her, regardless of their shared goals. Although her instincts are good, her gunmanship is erratic at best: One minute, she's shooting her partner by accident; the next, she's taking out the tire of a fast-moving car. On a motorcycle, she's radiates confidence racing down the highway. On foot (walking, running, limping), Eun-young always looks kinda lost. You can see why she's so fascinated by Jil-poong's unwavering gaze. She wishes she too could sustain that kind of eye contact, whether it was with a hyper-testy cohort like Detective Young-Cheol (Lee Sung-min), her misogynist partner Sang-gil (Song Kang-ho) or her generally unsupportive chief (Sin Joeng-geun). Since this movie isn't scifi horror, she can't become the dog. She's female, not feral, not fierce, not fortunate.

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