Thanks to the immensely popular Netflix series, SQUID GAME, Lee Jung-jae/이정재 has become a global star. The Emmy and SAG award winner has kept himself busy for the past few years writing, producing, directing and starring in HUNT, a political thriller based on events that took place in South Korea in the 1980s. The film is now rolling out to cinemas around the world.
After a failed attempt to assassinate the South Korean president in Washington, DC, KCIA Foreign Unit chief Park Pyong-ho (Lee) and Domestic Unit chief Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung/정우성, STEEL RAIN 2: SUMMIT/강철비2: 정상회담) are tasked by their director to uncover a North Korean spy, known as Donglim, who is deeply embedded within their agency. Though the men have a rocky history with each other, they agree to work together, but when a mission to extract a North Korean asylum seeker from Japan fails as well, the men start to suspect each other as the mole. As they investigate each other and they start uncovering the truth, they realise that they must put aside their differences when a new plot to assassinate the South Korean president in Thailand comes to light.
Heavy on action but light on logic, HUNT’s plot repeatedly zigs and zags during its two-hour runtime, so often that you can forgiven for getting lost along the way. You wouldn’t be alone either as it has been reported that Lee tweaked the film for international audiences after its premiere at Cannes back in May. The film’s production budget of ₩20 billion (US$14 million) seems to be well spent though, with elaborate set pieces involving pyrotechnics, semi-automatic prop rifles and fake bullets… lots of bullets, so many that HUNT’s body count rivals that of a RAMBO film. It’s the film’s final set piece, however, that’s the real head scratcher. While it looks great and the staging is masterful, both the story and the action are completely ludicrous, and that’s saying a lot given what went on before. Unfortunately, between the gun fights, the brawls and all the shouting going on, there isn’t much time devoted to character development. International audiences are probably unaware of South Korea’s political turmoil in the 1980s and while Lee does make a valiant attempt to put some historical context to the film, he doesn’t go far enough. My feeling is that this material would have been better served as a four- or six-part miniseries along the lines of the British political thriller, BODYGUARD, from 2018, where more time could have been spent on the characters’ backstories and motivations.
HUNT opens in Hong Kong’s cinemas on Thursday (October 20). If you love seeing explosions and guns blazing on the big screen, then check out the film in the cinema. Otherwise, you can wait for it to land on the streaming services in December.
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