(Clockwise, from foreground) Ahn Jae-Hong, Jung-min Park, Woo-shik Choi, and Lee Je-hoon play young men who go on a heist in 'Time to Hunt.'
Culture Movies

A chat with the cast of 'Time to Hunt,' the Korean heist film you should watch next

This action-packed movie by Yoon Sung-hyun earned a standing ovation from the notoriously critical audience at the Berlin Film Festival. BY ANDREW PAREDES
ANCX | May 03 2020

If you’re getting a sugar overdose from those romantic K-dramas the lady in your life has been subjecting you to, then it’s about time you streamed Time to Hunt. It’s a Korean action-drama set in a dystopian version of Seoul. It comes straight from the imagination of director Yoon Sung-hyun, on only his second film after 2011’s Bleak Night, an independent film about a school friendship gone awry. Time to Hunt had its international premiere at the 70th Berlin Film Festival last February, the first Korean film to gain such an honor.

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Yoon’s thriller revolves around a heist orchestrated by orphan Jun-seok (Lee Je-hoon) with his friends, the vaguely simple-minded Jang-ho (Ahn Jae-hong) and devoted son Ki-hoon (Parasite’s Choi Woo-shik). They recruit an inside man named Sang-soo (Park Jeong-min) to help them steal a pile of American dollars from an illegal gambling den run by gangsters. But as it so often happens in these heists, complications arise, and the four friends are soon pursued by a terrifyingly implacable assassin (Park Hae-soo).

ANCX sat down for a conversation with the director and cast of Time to Hunt. The camaraderie between the cast of young actors and their director, however, often led them to commandeer the interview themselves. And—spoiler alert—there might be crucial plot points scattered throughout the interview. Now, time to listen in.

ANCX: Please tell us what you first thought of the script.

Park Hae-soo (Han the assassin): When I first read the script, I loved how fast the story developed, and each and every character in the story felt very real to me. Especially the character of ‘Han,’ my character, left a very strong impression, which is why I decided to join the cast.

Park Jeong-min (Sang-soo): When director Yoon told me about the overall tone of the film after I read the screenplay, I was very excited to see the film. I was very curious as to how this script would be materialized into a film, which was very exciting.

Choi Woo-shik (Ki-hoon): First of all, it was a genre I love. And I was very excited to work with director Yoon and thought it would be very fun to work with the cast members—I was very thrilled because I felt that the process of making the film would make me happy.

Lee Je-hoon (Jun-seok): Even before I read the script, I was excited at the thought of working with director YoonSung-hyun again after Bleak Night. Midway through the script, I wondered, “Is this a heist movie with young people?” But past that point, I was fascinated by how a film can feature such diverse elements of different genres and became very curious to find out how this story would be visually brought onto the screen. All I could think about was how quickly we could gather everyone to start filming this great story with the cast members and great staff.

Ahn Jae-hong (Jang-ho): I’ve been a fan of director Yoon Sung-hyun since Bleak Night and I loved the short films he made before that. So I’ve always wanted to work with director Yoon, and the fact that I could do that plus the fact that I could work with all these actors that I admire was a very exciting start for me.

Lee Je-hoon: How excited were you?

Ahn Jae-hong: I read the script for the first time at home in my casual clothes, and I got so excited that I screamed.

Lee Je-hoon: That’s how great the screenplay was. 

Ahn Jae-hong: I danced a little as well.

Time to Hunt had its international premiere at the 70th Berlin Film Festival last February, the first Korean film to gain such an honor.

How different or similar are you to your respective characters?

Park Hae-soo: I play a cold-blooded killer, so I didn’t try to find any commonality between us. I simply thought about what kind of person Han was and never assumed that I should align myself with the character in any way. That’s what director Yoon wanted as well, and he helped me go through some extreme experiences playing this role. (Laughs) So I forgot about myself, in a way, when we were filming. There’s no similarity between us.

Then what do you like most about your character?

Park Hae-soo: There’s nothing I like about my character, but I do think he has some intriguing aspects to him—he is quite mysterious, and that could be an interesting side of this character.

Did you reference any other villains in cinema? 

Park Hae-soo: I didn’t reference a particular film, but the director and I did talk about Javier Bardem in ​No Country for Old Men​ for minor references in some aspects. Aside from that, I think I tried to shape the character within our story through discussions with the director, rather than from other films.

Were there any scenes that were scary even for you? 

Park Hae-soo: There was this hospital chase scene. During shooting, I’m sure the director had everything in his head, and I acted based on my instinct to run at the signal sound, but when I saw the scene in the final movie, I was kind of grossed out. I think I had certain after-effects throughout the entire shooting process, and it lingered after it was over. It felt like the energy actually became greater. I think even after we were done with the shooting process, the sense of disconnection from the world stuck with me.

What about you, Jeong-min? What similarities do you have with your insider character?

Park Jeong-min: I think my character Sang-soo shares quite a few similarities with me. He’s alienated from people but wishes he could get along with others. He’s not very good at expressing how he feels and is always easily intimidated or shy. I think he’s quite similar to me in that sense.

Park Hae-soo: What do you like most about him? What’s most interesting about him?

Park Jeong-min: I’d say…his own unique pathos? (Laughs)

Choi Woo-shik: I do have quite a lot of similarities with Ki-hoon, but I think I relate more to Sang-soo. I’m always a little passive and can come across as being pathetic. (Laughs) On the other hand, Ki-hoon doesn’t have any problem expressing himself to others. It’s not that I can’t do it, but I only do it with people that I’m comfortable with. Which is why I think I’m more similar to Sang-soo.

Lee Je-hoon: Before I read the script, director Yoon told me, “I wrote the Jun-seok for you,” so I didn’t notice any particular difference between the character and myself. I could slip into the character as if he was me, although being a leader among a group of friends and taking the lead is something I grew out of over the years. But I think I was more like that in elementary and middle school. That’s why being surrounded by the cast members often reminded me of my school days. Rather than studying and analyzing the character, I focused on how much back-and-forth interaction I could have with the actors, expressing the emotions of someone being hunted, and how much I can push myself to express the fear of someone being completely cornered. That’s why I pushed myself to the extreme at every take, which was fine-tuned and shaped in a lot of ways by director Yoon’s notes.

Ahn Jae-hong: I think I’m quite different from Jang-ho. I’m not as rough as him, and I’m more of a gentle and quiet person. I put in a lot of effort to understand the character. I think I’m also more similar to Sang-soo, who is used to being alone and staying quiet, which is the kind of character that I felt more comfortable playing before. So, it was a process of me constantly trying to narrow that gap between myself and Jang-ho.

Lee Je-hoon: "These emotions felt real. I was quite mentally drained, so I went out of the country as soon as we were done shooting. I think 'fled' would be more like it."

If you could play a character in the film other than your own, which character would you choose and why? 

Choi Woo-shik: I would love to play Han. He’s such a mysterious character that possesses such a powerful presence. I probably won’t be able to achieve that level of charisma in real life, and so, if given a chance, I would love to play the character. I’d like to create a character that is completely appalling to the extent that it would make the audience tremble.

Park Hae-soo: I’d be happy to play Han again, but if I could play another character, I would choose Jun-seok. I’d play this character because you can see so many emotions in him, he goes through a lot of experiences, including having to say goodbye to his loved ones. It’s a very intriguing character because you see so many changes in this person throughout the course of the story.

Ahn Jae-hong: I’d be also happy to play my character again. Each character has such a strong, distinct personality—but if I could choose another character, I’d want to play Sang-soo. There’s no special reason. (Laughs)

Lee Je-hoon: All of the characters are great. But if I could be so ambitious to choose one of them and say, “I’d like to play this role,” then I’d love to play Han, which my dear friend Hae-soo played. When you think about it, Han is not a character that can be played by just any actor. It’s a character that has to exude a certain kind of energy, charisma and presence without much explanation about who this person is. If I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to pull off portraying a character like Han. Watching Hae-soo playing the role was very cool. I think the character could be an inspiration for other characters of chasers, killers, or assassins and I think Han will become one of the most iconic characters in the history of such roles. That’s how intense this character is and I think only Hae-soo can pull off playing such an intense character.

Park Jeong-min: I had the least difficult time while filming out of all the people sitting here. So I’d like to say I’d want to play Jun-seok, played by Je-hoon, who had the most challenging time filming, as a token of my appreciation for his hard work. (Laughs)

The film features such a young cast, and you are a young director yourself, director Yoon. What was the chemistry like among the cast?

Yoon Sung-hyun: It may have to do with the genre, but it was such a challenging film to create with a limited budget. Whether it be the production design or action scenes, it required a lot of effort to make the film, so much so that I felt that I’d never experienced anything more difficult while filming. Usually, a director sits alone on a movie set, but as far as I heard from the filming crew, they had a lot of fun. (Laughs) I think the atmosphere was different day to day, but when it comes to the cast, I think they were all excited to be there and committed to the film, and I had a lot of conversations with them. We played games together and joked around with each other. 

But as the characters died off one by one, and we began filming with a smaller number of people, the tension on the set shot up. After Jae-hong’s character died, Je-hoon probably had the toughest time. The actors relied on each other, and as each of the characters that Jeong-min and Woo-shik played died, Je-hoon must’ve felt to his core the losses that Jun-seok had to suffer. I think he must’ve felt very lonely and isolated. Toward the end, Je-hoon was filming all by himself, which must’ve been quite an isolating experience. But overall, everyone got along very well on the set and the chemistry was great.

Choi Woo-shik: The most important part of this film is that the cast really needed to have the very close bond that the four friends share. Thankfully, we’re all easy-going, so we got to hang out and have fun almost every day on the set. And as director Yoon mentioned, we got along with each other so well that the absence of one person was very clearly felt. There are instances where you would have a certain distance or feel a barrier between the cast and the director, but with director Yoon, that barrier was significantly reduced because he’s young, and we think alike on so many levels. So, we had great energy on set.

Je-hoon, you were reunited with director Yoon and Jeong-min nine years after working with them on Bleak Night. What changes did you notice?

Lee Je-hoon: During those nine years, Jeong-min starred in quite a number of films and became a lot more experienced and mature. He’s grown so much as an actor over the years. He’s not the same guy I used to know. He’s become so much cooler and I relied on him a lot throughout the filming process. I was always happy to see him on the set. As for director Yoon, I got the impression that he’d become far more meticulous, and I could feel his commitment to the story and energy that he has built inside him. I thought, “This man has been waiting for this moment for so long. I want to be a great prop as an actor so he can tell the story as a director. I want to bring his vision to life as an actor.” To be honest, making this film was very challenging and difficult, but I had strong faith in these people.

What was it like seeing the final film from start to finish?

Lee Je-hoon: In a way, everyone was together, and one by one they all left, leaving me alone, and I felt that in a very real way. Experiencing so much happiness and having success toward a goal, then all of a sudden being chased after, and the guilt that comes with having put friends in danger as the mastermind of a dangerous plan, and the loneliness and emptiness of being left alone... these emotions felt real. I was quite mentally drained, so I went out of the country as soon as we were done shooting. I think “fled” would be more like it. I hope that the audience can relate to this struggle. And as for how to accept the consequences, and whether to fight back against the consequences or to turn away and give up—I think these are the kind of questions the film presents in a metaphorical way. That’s how I interpreted it.

Thirty-year-old Woo-sik Choi has been in other criticially acclaimed movies such as Train to Busan, and the Academy Award-winning film Parasite

The film is packed with thrilling action sequences. What was your favorite?

Lee Je-hoon: There are so many, but when the group becomes aware of being chased by Han and the sequence where they are trying to leave the underground parking lot in the car—this was a detail-packed scene that took a long time to shoot. So I was really nervous, and even though it was freezing, the moment we went into action, I could feel my body heat up. I was actually curious as to how I could express the fear and emotions felt at moments you could literally die, so I tried to really be in the moment. But when you’re face to face with Han, holding the cold, heavy, and dark gun, the only thing that comes to mind is, “Oh, I’m about to die.” So this scene is the most memorable one for me. I think there were only about two shots fired, but the tension was definitely extreme.

What about you, Woo-shik? Do you have a favorite scene?

Choi Woo-shik: Well, the whole film looks impressive. We didn’t use a lot of practical lighting when we were shooting in Korea at first, so this was a new experience for me too. Everytime I monitored myself, I couldn’t really see my face clearly, so I was curious to see how this will be seen on screen, and I think the end result looks fantastic. The lighting creates a dominant mood on screen, and especially when the camera spins during the speedy planning and preparing scenes, I think there were many amazing shots that haven’t been seen anywhere else.

What was it like when you heard that Time to Hunt would be the first Korean film to screen at the Berlinale Special Section?

Park Hae-soo: When I first heard the good news—in fact, I got the news on the group chat with the director and the cast—I felt so happy, but it also felt quite surreal. Unfortunately, Woo-shik couldn’t join us in Berlin, but when we saw the audience in person at the festival and watched the film, I thought to myself, “Wow. This cannot be true.” I was so moved to see it all happening before my eyes. As the movie started, I could feel how the audience were genuinely supporting us and eager to watch the film, so I kept thinking, “I don’t ever want to forget this moment.” I felt so grateful.

Park Jeong-min: Of course I was very excited and happy to be in Berlin with director Yoon and the cast. And when we returned to Korea, still feeling so inspired and moved, I had a lot of thoughts in my head. I couldn’t believe that I was invited to a film festival that I’d dreamed of attending as a film student. I felt immensely grateful. I had a great time in Berlin enjoying every moment, and when I came back to Korea, I realized, “That must’ve been one of the most important moments of my life.” I felt grateful to the director and my colleagues.

Lee Je-hoon: Jeong-min just said everything that I wanted to say. I agree with everything that he said. Growing up, I’d never imagined that I would be able to live as a professional cinephile, or even if I did imagine what it would be like, I never thought I would achieve that dream. And being at the Berlin Festival was such an emotional experience. It was surreal, and I will never forget the moment when I stepped onto the red carpet with director Yoon and the cast members. And I will continue to dream of going to these amazing film festivals through great projects. I thought to myself that I really, really want to attend these festivals again, and in order to do that, I’ll need to keep working hard.

Ahn Jae-hong: As they all mentioned, I also felt very, very honored. After the screening was over, we were invited onto the stage to say a few words to the audience. I vividly remember saying that I would cherish that moment for a very long time and thanking everyone at the festival. And it was all the more meaningful to be able to share such a prestigious stage with these actors and director Yoon. The audience greeted us with such a huge round of applause, which I’ll cherish for a long time.

Choi Woo-shik: I was jealous. I was working on another film at the time, so I couldn’t make it. I wished so much I could be there with them—the venue where they screened the film looked amazing. I felt so sad that I couldn’t be there.

Yoon Sung-hyun: The film is so clearly genre-driven. Time to Hunt​ has a lot of crime thriller elements of a caper movie at the beginning, transitions into a suspense-driven middle part, and becomes a complete Western towards the very end. Considering the amalgamation of these genres, I didn’t even dream of going to the Berlin Film Festival. My hope was to have the film screened at fantasy film festivals, but being invited to such a huge segment of the Berlin Festival—for a section that is the biggest following the official competition—was surreal. I never imagined something liked this for myself, and I couldn’t believe that it was happening. 

Even when I was at the festival, it still felt pretty surreal, and once I got on the stage, I was crazy nervous and worried sick about how the film would be received. I was told that, generally, audiences at the Berlin Film Festival tend to be quite harsh, so when they don’t like a film, some of them would leave in the middle of a screening or refuse to applaud just to be polite. [Executive director] Mariette Rissenbeek gave me a heads-up telling me that I shouldn’t take it personally even if that happened, which was quite scary. I kept thinking about what to do if audiences refused to applaud the actors or if half of them walked out of the theater. I felt dizzy thinking about the situation. The anxiety and fear were intense. But when the film ended, no one out of the 1,600 members of the audience left the theater, and they gave us a huge round of applause—even when the closing credits were over, they didn’t stop applauding each and every one of the cast members. I was very, very emotional, and all of us teared up on the stage. Looking at the actors tearing up and being showered with the loud applause, I knew that it was that moment that would make everything okay even if the film doesn’t get rave reviews. It was such a rewarding experience. I felt euphoric and thought, “Wow, this is why so many people want to be at film festivals.” Unfortunately, due to what’s happening around the world, the Berlin Film Festival was the last film festival we attended as all the others have been canceled or postponed, but I hope that the situation improves soon so that the film can be screened again at another film festival. 

The young group then recruit inside man Sang-soo, played by Park Jeong-Min (left).