Lee Je-Hoon as the fresh out of jail Joon-Seok plunged into a Korean dystopia. Photo from Netflix
Culture Movies

The 3-minute review: ‘Time to Hunt’ takes viewers to a South Korea we have not seen before

The film takes its time getting us acquainted with the gang it clearly intends to be the focus of our sympathy. Until it unleashes a disarming assassin. By ANDREW PAREDES
ANCX | Apr 24 2020

Directed by Yoon Sung-hyun

Starring Lee Je-hoon, Park Hae-soo, Choi Woo-shik

“Drugs and guns…what the hell happened?” So goes a query from just-released convict Jun-seok (Lee Je-hoon) to his friends, the vaguely obtuse Jang-ho (Ahn Jae-hong) and the immaculately coiffed Ki-hoon (Choi Woo-shik, who played the charming son of lower-class grifters in Parasite). It’s telling that, looking at a rundown Seoul draped in the gray metals and permeating smog of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, drugs and guns are the first thing the befuddled ex-convict would remark upon.

This is far from the curated vision of an immaculate South Korea that we are used to in K-dramas. And it would seem to be even further from the South Korea of real life, where gun violence is at near-negligible levels because private gun owners are obliged to store their firepower at their local police stations. The proliferation of drugs and guns are the most obvious signs that director Yoon Sung-hyun has plunked you down into a dystopian Seoul in the near future in Time to Hunt, only his second feature film after his debut nine years ago.

Tha gang's all here. From left: Lee Je-Hoon as Joon-Seok, Choi Woo-Sik as Ki-Hoon, Park Jung-Min as Sang-Soo, Ahn Jae-Hong as Jang-Ho.

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Jun-seok has just been released from prison after taking the fall for a heist he orchestrated with his friends. But while he was serving his three-year sentence, South Korea had suffered a catastrophic financial crisis. The won’s value had fallen so far that their robbery’s original take is now only worth around $2,000. So Jun-seok hits upon another mark, a gambling den run by gangsters with scads of American dollars under the counter just asking to be stolen. The three friends coerce a croupier named Sang-soo (Park Jeong-min) to serve as their inside man. The heist goes off fairly smoothly, but of course there are unintended consequences, with the underworld figures the four guys stole from more concerned with the security tapes they swiped along with the cash.

Yoon gets his story off to a slow start, diligently building his world and taking his time getting the audience acquainted with the gang he clearly intends to be the focus of our sympathy. We learn, for instance, that Jun-seok is an orphan with visions of living a laidback life at a beach in Taiwan, and that Ki-hoon is very attached to his parents. The trouble is, none of this exposition really gives us any reason to actively invest in these characters. They are likeable only because of the circumstances they find themselves in, not because of some core virtue or underdog objective. More damningly, they are reckless and also a bit clueless, completely unprepared for the sh*tstorm about to come their way.

Park Hae-Soo as the mysterious assasin Han

That sh*tstorm comes in the most interesting character Time to Hunt has to offer: a mysterious hitman named Han (Park Hae-soo) contracted to pursue the gang. Our first encounter with Han is a moment of gratuitous violence. Our second meeting has him taking a shower, and the camera pans across his apartment to a wall where frames containing severed ears hang, presumably trophies he took from previous assignments. In two deft strokes, Yoon has blown his four protagonists out of the water, all but ensuring that this Korean version of No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh, the terrifyingly inscrutable assassin that Javier Bardem played all the way to an Oscar, will be the center of our fascination.

Yoon plays with a lot of Hollywood influences. He stages action sequences with the muscularity of a Michael Mann and the precision framing of a Christopher Nolan. Once the belabored exposition is done, the ride barely lets up, with nail-biting chases staged at a parking garage, a hospital and an elevator with barely time to catch a breath. (Oddly, despite the license to splash a lot of gore across the frame, the director mostly chooses restraint, preferring to imply death offscreen.)

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But it’s obvious the director is having the most fun with his enigmatic assassin. There is a delicious “the call is coming from inside the house” moment set at a bar where Han declares unambiguously that he is the hunter alluded to in the title. Unburdened by backstory, unsaddled by motivation, and then layered with twisty reveals that only make you ask more questions, Han is the best thing about the movie. Problems with pacing aside, at least Yoon is cognizant of a good thing when he directs it—Time to Hunt’s ambiguous ending gives Han a good excuse to go on the hunt once more.

 

Time to Hunt is currently streaming on Netflix 

Photographs from Netflix