Illang: The Wolf Brigade

Ungrounded Jin-Roh retread misses the point
by Bolt Vanderhuge

When I heard that there was going to be another addition to the Kerberos Saga, a live-action movie made in South Korea, I was cautiously optimistic. While plenty of my fellow weebs know of Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, most don’t realize it’s actually the third adaptation of an alternate-history manga written by Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, 1995). It’s set before the two live-action films, both directed by Oshii. Thing is, these films are not like Jin-Roh.

These movies are kind of weird to put it mildly.

A lot of anime fans ignore live-action works, and I dragged my heels getting around to watch them myself. While Oshii was writer and director for the two live-action films, in the animated Jin-Roh, he only wrote. This could explain why Jin-Roh is much more grounded and easier to follow than The Red Spectacles and StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops, which don’t really feature the iconic armor. Actually, they come off like college art-house films, which is probably why these films aren’t well regarded. That’s why I hoped the new film might add a more grounded installment to the saga, more in line with Jin-Roh, though I was confused by it being a Korean production.

But Illang: The Wolf Brigade isn’t an addition so much as a retread. I should have known! Naturally this invites comparison between it and the original. The main criticism is the same as the recent American Ghost in the Shell – it copies the iconic imagery of its source material without understanding what the original was trying to say, or even have that imagery make sense in the context of the reboot. The manga and first three films are set in an alternate history where Germany occupied Japan following WWII, so the iconic armor of Jin-Roh has a German-style helmet and an MG 42. Illang, on the other hand, is set in a near-future South Korea reunifying with North Korea, so there’s literally no reason to use anything German, other than to remind people of the anime.

Hey, remember this shot? Remember how much you liked this anime?

Illang is competently shot, and thanks to being a remake is as watchable as Jin-Roh, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re just curious and want to see how they messed up. Unfortunately, this is yet another example of a remake that was far more interested in trying to draw people in with its visuals rather than in what its source material was even about.

While Jin-Roh and the manga was about collectivism vs. individualism, and deconstructing the idea of the stereotypical action-hero, Illang follows that stereotype to the point that it actually changes the story, and doesn’t really bother with philosophy. This is despite the whole reunification thing in the setup, and I doubt North Korea would agree unless the unified government was communist. There’s a lot of material there to make a point about collectivism. But no! Jin-Roh talked smack about how fascism sucked and made wolves out of men, and crushed the idea of the Hollywood action hero, but Illang ignores all that crap and focuses on way more machine gun fire and car chases. Longer, dammit! Just ignore the source material that actually tried to say something and enjoy the action and melodrama-I mean romance. Fuck your message – explosions!

Don’t Check it Out:
Illang: The Wolf Brigade
Based on the manga by Mamoru Oshii
Directed by Kim Jee-woon, Released by Warner Brothers Korea