South Korean film “Hunt” tries really hard, but I observed it from the distance even while admiring a number of good moments in the movie. It wants to be not only a serious spy drama movie but also an intense action thriller flick, and it succeeds to some degree, but it was often hard and difficult for me to care about what was happening on the screen, mainly because of its frequently convoluted narrative as well as its rather broad and superficial characterization.
I am also wondering whether I was too distracted by how fictional the story is in many aspects while clearly inspired by several real-life incidents during the 1980s. Born in 1983, I was too young to remember anything during that period, but I know enough about these real-life incidents thanks to many anti-communist kid magazines I eagerly devoured during the early 1990s, so my mind constantly kept drawing the line between history and fiction instead of really enjoying the film itself.
The story mainly revolves around two high-ranking members of KCIA: Park Pyong-ho (Lee Jung-jae) and Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung). Although they are supposed to work together for the safety of their country and its current president as two of the most prominent figures in KCIA, it turns out that there is some bad history between them, and Park is not so pleased when Kim later attempts to be a bit more friendly to him via their little private meeting.
Anyway, things have been quite problematic in KCIA after what unexpectedly occureed during the president’s visit to Washington D.C. It seems that North Korea is trying to assassinate the president before attacking South Korea again, and there comes another surprise for KCIA when a certain important North Korean figure approaches to KCIA for his defection. According to this figure, there is a mole at the center of KCIA, and his information soon turns out to be quite accurate as the latest covert operation of KCIA in North Korea is disastrously failed.
Naturally, both Park and Kim are ordered to flush out this mole by any means necessary, and that leads to the growing uneasiness inside KCIA. At one point, those low-ranking KCIA officials in charge of documents and records become very nervous about how to balance themselves between Park and Kim, because even a small wrong decision may lead to dire consequences for them. Everyone knows too well how brutal and merciless KCIA can be to anyone deemed as the enemy of the state, and we surely get glimpses into many atrocities committed inside the torture chambers of KCIA during that period.
As delving more into their common matter, Park and Kim come to conflict with each other more than before as regarding each other with more doubt and suspicion. Park is clearly having some objection to how his organization works for serving the president who killed and maimed lots of people for usurping the country, and he has also been involved with a young female college student whom he has often helped for some personal reason. In case of Kim, he seems to be associated with several suspicious figures, and he is certainly not so pleased when he learns that his rival is digging into that.
Meanwhile, the situation becomes more complicated as the president is ready to go abroad again for a series of diplomatic meetings. The president’s schedule must be prepared and then secured without any trouble, but then the mole inside KCIA becomes active again, and Park and Kim become all the more desperate as relentlessly going after each other.
I will not go more into details for not spoiling your entertainment, but I can tell you instead that the screenplay by first-time director Lee Jung-jae and his co-writer Jo Seung-hee keeps things rolling as adding one plot turn after another, and the movie also serves us several skillful action sequences which are often tense and visceral thanks to Lee’s first-rate crew members including cinematographer Lee Mo-gae and editor Kim Sang-bum. When the movie eventually arrives at the expected climactic part which is loosely based on a certain shocking real-life incident in 1983, Lee and his crew members go all the way for throwing more thrill and excitement, and Lee, who has been much more prominent thanks to his Emmy-nominated performance in South Korean Netflix TV series “Squid Game”, shows here that he is a good action director who really knows how to present action scenes well on the screen.
However, as so busy with its numerous narrative turns, the movie fails to bring enough depth and personality to its characters, who are more or less than mere cogs in its efficient but ultimately colorless plot mechanism. Although Lee and his co-star Jung Woo-sung, who is also soon going to release his first directorial work, are surely good actors, they just look stoically tense and elusive throughout the film, and many of other main cast members simply come and go as required by their respective thankless roles, though Go Yoon-jung and Jeon Hye-jin manage to distinguish themselves as two of a few substantial female characters in the story.
Overall, “Hunt” does not impress me enough for recommendation, but I do appreciate its considerable technical efforts, and I think you may enjoy it more than I did at last night. Anyway, we can all agree that Lee is a promising filmmaker, and it will be interesting to see what he will give us next after this fairly competent debut work.
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