In my continued self-study of new Korean cinema, I found myself constantly venturing into films that had already gained a global following, whether for their cult status or arthouse appeal. I had yet to find a bad experience, as a result, and was growing concerned that such outcomes were due solely to my purposeful ignorance to other Korean film options. As such, I decided to pop a film called Wild Card into my computer knowing only that it was a Korean film and that I had a lot of trouble finding more than passing synopses of it online. I assumed the film would be enjoyable at best and would finally prove to be a Korean film that was middle of the road and lacking in any cinematic merit. However, much to my surprise, Wild Card was its own piece of brilliance that delivers a cop drama so astute and well-envisioned that it easily gives any buddy cop film made in the past decade a run for its money. Perhaps it is the sincerity about which Yu-jin Kim approaches the subject matter, or the stellar acting of the entire cast, but the movie, despite being action heavy and extremely traditional in narrative quality, is excellent. I was fortunate to find it lying amongst a handful of other imported dvd's at a local thrift store and more fortunate that it played on my computer with little trouble to region variations. Wild Card is a rare glimpse into the average film delivery in South Korea, yet, to my eyes, it is something far greater than average.
Wild Card as a cop film focuses on the experiences of two cops as they attempt to bring down a murder who is roaming the urban jungle of Seoul. The film focuses on two cops, first, the aging Oh Yeong-dal (Jin-yeong Jeong) who is reeling from a controversial misfiring while on duty and approaches his job as a detective rather cautiously. Second, is Bang Je-su (Dong-kun Yang) who is a stickler for following the manual, yet manages to be an abrasive and sporadic detective who takes pride in his physical prowess and desires to promote himself in the ranks of the force quickly. Furthermore, Je-su finds himself attempting to win over the heart of another member of the force, a gorgeous woman named Kang Na-Na (Chae-young Han) who is a member of the forensics department. In typical CSI fashion, the two detectives appear to always be one step behind the killer who is both ruthless and incredibly aware of his surrounding, given that he always cleans up his mess and only uses a small metal ball and chain as a weapon. Yeong and Je-su are also blocked by the bureaucracy of the police force, which does not allow them to simply burn and destroy all criminals in their path, nor are they allowed to excessively use force as a means to gain information. Despite this, both the detectives, along with the help of Kang and the remainder of the force manage to find loopholes and back alley tricks that allow them to get close to the killer, eventually catching him slipping and thanks to the sacrifice of another member of the force they finally capture the killer, locking him in jail to await the his trial. Both Yeong and Je-su grow from the experience and realize that their methods may not have been the best of approaches; however, they also know that their partnership is one of a kind and that together they will effectively protect the streets of Korea from any and all trouble.
Wild Card, as noted earlier, is a rather conservative narrative that does little in the way of new social commentary. However, what is noticeable is the clear influence American cinema has offered to Korea. Wild Card essentially plays out like a hybrid buddy cop movie and crime scene investigation television show. The film has a relatable and diverse cast of characters that come from various social settings and social ideologies. It also has a killer who is always ahead of the game and seemingly perfect at everything he does, a highly unlikely scenario, but one that helps to affect change amongst the characters in the film, which is inherently necessary in any film involving heroes. To call the film entirely American though, would be unfair and ill-informed. Wild Card clearly has a wide array of uniquely American qualities about it. The relationship between Yeong and Je-su is only one example of this, in an American buddy cop film the duo would have consisted of a young and rebellious cop who is at first disrespectful to his elder and ultimately comes to learn his maturity is necessary. From the onset, Je-su recognizes Yeong as his elder and though he does disagree with him throughout the film, it is never in a manner that would flat out disregard his superiority by age alone. This seems to be an element unique to the Korean stylings of the film. Similarly, and something that has been discussed within my previous writings on Korean films, violence is depicted in an unusual way within Korean works, and even though Wild Card is a mainstream Korean film, it certainly relishes in excesses of violence. I have not quite come to an understanding about the nature of such violence, but it is clearly an element in most Korean films of this nature and Wild Card shares in the bloody opera. Ultimately, Wild Card is something of hybrid film between East and West and is all the more brilliant for its combination.
I would say go out and buy a copy of Wild Card, but they simply are not easily accessible. If you really need a copy now though, it appears as though a few are popping up on Ebay.