(Korean and French dialogue)
Set in Paris with recognizable Gallic names for support, “Wild Animals” reps a colorful parable of a divided country in relation to the outside world, and for a while, it looks like this may be that rare item to break out of the Korean-pic ghetto. Allegory gets the best of helmer Kim Ki-Duk, though, as things bog down in repetitive and increasingly bloody events, making sure results end up in a cinematic DMZ.
Story concerns Korean expats on fringes of Paris’ art and crime scenes, with focus on petty hustler Chong-Hae (Cho Jae-Hyun), a southerner who fancies himself an artist, and Hong San (Jang Dong-Jik), a strong, silent type from the north who accidentally aids his cross-border comrade’s dubious schemes.
Soon, their antics draw the attention of a natty French mobster (Richard Bohringer) and he installs them among his henchmen. Not that they settle in, of course: Chong-Hae is distracted by his affection for a Korean woman who paints herself white and stands nude in public squares — she’s obsessed with Rodin’s famous bust of Camille Claudette — and Hong San similarly fancies a stripper he thinks should go straight.
Both women are, in turn, kept by oppressive Frenchmen — a comment, perhaps, on Euro colonial attitudes — and the statue lady finally frees herself by stabbing her guy with a well-frozen fish. Hong San, meanwhile, is inadvertently drawn into the demise of the stripper’s beau, whom she loves. It’s complicated. And so is the relationship between the two principals, who through it all argue, beat each other up, hug a lot and beat each other up some more.
By the time the French crooks throw our boys into a bag, shoot them and throw the sack into the ocean — where they survive, only to slug each other again and then face another round of revenge — one gets the feeling that helmer Kim is laying on more symbolism than the slim storyline can bear. Still, even if it won’t be shown at any U.N. talks, an attractive cast, zippy lensing all over the City of Light, and a cool soundtrack (alternating between keen Arabic music and histrionic Korean pop) turn this mishmash into passable midnight fare. Original title means “Wild Animal Reservation Zone.”