Fogs, dogs and toxic smogs are just the headliner adversities hurled at the motley band of misfits determined to survive Kim Tae Gon’s “Project Silence,” by no means a classic in the Korean action-thriller pantheon, but a good enough stopgap for a rainy Sunday until the next one comes along. Set on a cataclysm-prone Seoul highway bridge with suspension cables, like those of our disbelief, destined at some point to snap, Kim’s screenplay — co-written with Park Joo Suk and Kim Hong Hwa — cleaves so close to disaster-movie formula it’s hard to believe it needed three human screenwriters to gin it up. Given that its most lunatic flourish is the addition of dozens of slavering government-engineered superdogs, maybe it was partially generated by algrrrithm.
At some point there evolved in the genre a pretty hard-and-fast rule stating that chaos in the falling-masonry department can only be justified if it all somehow engineers a better relationship between a (preferably single) parent and their estranged child. Surely the death of hundreds of commuters and about a trillion won’s worth of infrastructural damage is a small price to pay for a daughter’s newfound look of respect at her suddenly redeemed father?
And so we meet Jung-won, recent widower and pragmatic chief aide to the incumbent presidential candidate — played by Lee Sun-kyun, who also played the rich-guy parasite in “Parasite,” but who hasn’t had this hard a day since 2014’s fantastic “A Hard Day.” Jung-won is so busy ruthlessly looking out for his boss’s interests in the upcoming election — to the point of stating baldly that they are not in power to serve the nation, only the half of it that voted for them — that it has driven a wedge between him and his daughter Kyeong-min (Kim Su An), and she has decided to pursue her music studies in Australia. They argue over her attachment to a children’s book her deceased mother wrote, and drive to the airport in frosty silence.
En route, Jung-won gets into an altercation with gas-station attendant Jobak (Ju Ji Hoon, wacky) who hears that thick fog has caused a multi-car, truck, bus and poison-gas tanker pileup on the airport road bridge and decides to pursue them in his tow truck. That traffic accident, caused by a jerk in a sports car joyriding at top speed across the zero-visibility highway for the benefit of his livestream, is the first real taste we get of director Kim’s handle on disaster action, and it’s pretty great, piling vehicle atop vehicle in a way that seems physically plausible and yet also extravagantly OTT.
However, the accident occurs on the city-facing side of the highway, therefore posing no real danger to airport-bound Jung-won, Kyeong-Min and Jobak — nor indeed to the military convoy that happens to be ferrying a pack of cloned attack dogs who have been behaviorally engineered to target the voices of their prey. All will be well as long as those dogs remain in their cages! Reader, they do not. Project Silence, as it is codenamed, is let loose in a flurry of roided-up canine CGI. For once the floaty artificiality of the creature design is a blessing, making it clear that however many of these beasts die, no real dogs were harmed.
The ringleader, actually the OG bitch from which all the others were cloned, resourcefully removes the inhibitor chip that the bad-guy scientists (so bad that part of their scheme literally involves killing a bunch of puppies) had planted in her head. Mama Cujo thus regains her murderous mojo, and is now out for really quite righteous revenge on humankind, with snivelling project-leading scientist Dr Yang (Kim Hie Woon) powerless to stop her. Soon, the hounds have snacked their way through most of the background extra budget, leaving only a small crew of stragglers — including a sweet old man taking loving care of his senile wife, and a pro-circuit golfer and her caddy — to “Poseidon Adventure” their way to safety.
The sound-activated aspect of the dogs’ programming suggests there might be some gimmicky formal kinship with “A Quiet Place,” but “Project Silence” is actually rather loud, what with all the cracking concrete and groaning metal, not to mention the earblasting bombast of Shim Hyun Jung’s berserker action score. Details of how and why the dogs attack are left fuzzy, but who cares when star cinematographer Hong Kyung Pyo (“Parasite,” “Burning,” “Broker”) is on hand to class up the schlock, and when Kim proves himself so adept in calibrating the cause-and-effect chain reaction of mounting disaster. The ending baits a sequel, naturally. And this go-round does just enough to ensure that while no one’s panting for “Project Silence II: Bark in Business,” no one’s howling at the prospect either.