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‘Howling’: Portrait of the minority

Feb. 8, 2012 - 16:13 By Claire Lee
Actress Lee Na-young returns as awkward detective in director Yoo Ha’s upcoming thriller

Upcoming thriller “Howling” is, ultimately, actress Lee Na-young’s movie.

Though she is paired up with Chungmuro heavyweight Song Kang-ho, and his name outshines hers, the film was always supposed to be about the female detective character. That’s what director Yoo Ha had in mind during the pre-production of the upcoming thriller, which pivots around a serial murder case involving a giant wolf-dog and underage sex trafficking.

The director, best known for his “macho” movies including “Once Upon a Time in High School” (2004) and “A Dirty Carnival” (2006), has repeatedly told the media that this movie is going to be about the socially marginalized, with a female character as the protagonist.

“Even the wolf-dog symbolizes what being a minority is all about,” he said during a press premiere on Monday. “He’s not exactly a dog, but isn’t a wolf, either.”

Speaking of “torn in the middle” or “being a minority,” the casting of Lee Na-young seems like the right move. Throughout her acting career, this gorgeous actress has never really been a “mainstream” figure. Many still remember her as Jeon Gyeong in the 2002 MBC drama “Ruler of Your Own World,” the eccentric, boyish indie musician who would drink soju from the bottle on the street through a straw. 
Actress Lee Na-young stars as a detective in director Yoo Ha’s upcoming film “Howling.” (CJ Entertainment)

In the 2004 romantic comedy “Someone Special,” which won her a best actress award, she played the awkward, unpredictable stalker of a struggling baseball player. Her last film was director Kim Ki-duk’s “Dream” (2008), where she played an emotionally tormented woman who sleep walks. It’s well-known that she nearly died while shooting a scene where she hangs herself.

In her upcoming movie, the actress, who has long been a model for popular local cosmetic brand LANEIGE, stars as Eun-young, a beautiful yet socially inept female detective surrounded by macho co-workers and superiors. The former patrol woman is the minority. She the only female member in her team, and her lack of “aegyo” ― a Korean term for “being cute” ― and social skills make her a complete outsider. She courageously ― but without smart maneuvers ― fights against the low expectations, lewd jokes and even sexual harassment by her team members.

And on top of everything else, she is a divorcee. Her husband left her because he wasn’t happy with her job, while her parents passed away when she was young. She’s got that obvious “I’ve-got-nothing-to-lose” attitude, which makes her even more unpopular among her fellow detectives.

Yet she is no Ha Ji-won or Angelina Jolie in this action thriller ― she doesn’t even know how to properly use her gun. Instead of taking down criminal suspects with flash action moves, she gets her ribs broken and ends up hospitalized.

What shines, however, is her brilliant instinct as a detective and genuine feeling for the victims. She is the only member of the team who actually cares about the victims ― after she discovers that brutal underage sex trafficking is involved with the murder case.

And this has a lot to do with the fact that she is completely alone. Unlike her male co-workers and superiors, she has no family members to feed and take care of. Hence each case does not come to her as a chance to get promoted ― and earn more money ― but a problem that must be solved properly so no one gets hurt anymore.

It is moving to see this socially-awkward character risking herself in all kinds of danger to solve the case, as her reckless nature evidently stems from her lack of family. She has no family member to be upset or even visit her in the hospital when she gets hurt.

Director Yoo Ha said he wanted to challenge Korea’s family-oriented norms with “Howling.” He succeeds in creating a convincing portrait of a minority of today, with a solid narrative and convincing acting.

Lee Na-young certainly is the star in this film. Just like her previous eccentric roles, she looks awkward and absorbed in her own thoughts in this film as well. Yet such qualities perfectly suit the role, and the character leaves much for the viewers to think about ― especially violence and family-oriented selfishness.

A CJ Entertainment release, the movie opens on Feb. 16.

By Claire Lee (