The superior elements to one of this year’s South Korean midnight screenings (the country’s genre titles are a regular feature at Cannes), are to be found in Tae Gon Kim’s stylish execution of the material. Because the script is pure silliness with a side order of ridiculous. Project Silence (2023) wants nothing more than to be a crowd-pleaser complete with that mainstream South Korean action cinema staple: the troubled father-daughter relationship and cheesy third act reconciliation.
Putting the canine into Cannes this year, Project Silence, written by the director alongside Joo Suk Park and Yong Hwa Kim, is the type of story ripped straight from a graphic novel. The setup is simple: a father and daughter in mourning are on their way to the airport at night (his kid is off to study abroad), but they get trapped on a bridge with severely reduced visibility, due to fog. An army truck carrying rabies-infected pit bull terriers is accidentally unleashed on the public, during a massive car crash in the mid-section of the motorway bridge (John Landis’ Blues Brothers eat your heart out). Amid all the explosions and unfolding mayhem, structural damage occurs and it leaves folk in a real tight spot (time is running out before the bridge collapses completely). A disparate band of survivors and extras to be served as chow for the dogs attempt to mount their own rescue mission, when they realise the authorities aren’t coming.
As the cast get eaten one by one, Tae Gon Kim strings together smash-bash-crash set-piece after set-piece, and the alpha dog known as E9 emerges among the pack, less bland killer more akin to Caesar in the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy, an avenger from the animal kingdom, brought into existence by the meddling of scientists and it’s time to bite back!
If the script is more Dog Daft Afternoon than Dog Day Afternoon, Tae Gon Kim does know how to keep things fast-paced. Project Silence is a lot of things, but boring isn’t one of them. A film like this, it all really depends on your tolerance and taste for monster movies, convenient plot points to keep things moving and syrupy sentiment delivered in earnest. If you want nothing but a stab at pure entertainment, this might well be your bag. But South Korea has produced far better genre movies than this bit of hokum.
Mounted with vim, its attempts to tug at the heart strings and exploring daddy-daughter issues leave it tonally imbalanced. This is the kind of film you watch to see people getting killed by monsters. You don’t particularly care about characterisation.
Still: Festival de Cannes