By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by Lee Jung-jae
- Starring Lee Jung-jae, Jung Woo-sung, Jeon Hye-jin, Go Yoon-jung
Before the title card drops on Hunt, you are thrust into the middle of an immediate hostage situation and assassination plot without any warning. The camera spins around, gun shots fire off, a couple of grenades send agents flying, and it all ends with a tense standoff that nearly leaves our lead character dead. It’s a fitting start to what is, essentially, the Korean equivalent to Michael Mann meets Michael Bay, and all of the baggage that carries.
While Hunt is keen on throwing it’s characters, and likewise it’s audience, to the wolves and having them fend for themselves, it does come with an asterisk. For better and for worse, Hunt was made with exclusively South Korean audiences in mind, focused on a period of history that remains both contentious enough to be discussed and recent enough that it’s still fresh in some people’s minds. The military dictatorship of the 80s is an exceptionally complicated period of history there and for many Westerners, this focus will be the make or break point of the film for many, even if the actual plot itself falls to this same convolution.
Hunt is a series of betrayals, action scenes, and revelations happening so fast you will have to do double takes in order to keep track but also make sure to never stop paying attention. Lee Jung-jae’s directorial debut demands your fullest attention, and he’s making sure you have it by making sure an action sequence happens every so often to keep things trucking along. And what action! It’s thrilling, intense stuff, and Jung-jae’s command of the camera is apparent in these scenes most of all. He keeps this same energy for the majority of the runtime as well with everything else as well, with even the dialogue scene punctuated by intense stares and people slamming papers on desks going “they knew!” and then stomping out of the room.
Of course, don’t worry about how the plot mechanics actually function. In the end, this is mostly just a simple “agent vs. agent” story that’s made more confusing more then it needs to, but viewing it from that simple angle it’s a ton of fun and has a suitably intense, shockingly bitter climax. Both Jung-jae and his co-star Jung Woo-sung are fantastic here, though it’s really Woo-sung that’s probably the bigger showcase of acting talent here, having to balance out a genuine menace and sympathetic side that would be hard to do otherwise.
And while Hunt is also not exactly revolutionary politically (in fact, if there is anything truly wrong with it, it’s that it drops the ball on this several times in favour of plot twists), there is a genuine attempt to portray the time period as accurately as possible. The usage of torture, the constant threat of being taken in, it’s all here. While it ultimately is in service of the action scenes and the more tense spy thriller shenanigans, you can’t fault Hunt for having a little bit of brains.
Ultimately though I don’t think you’ll be watching Hunt for it’s political commentary or storyline. Instead, Hunt will be viewed as an above-average, even occasionally thrilling, action film that manages to overcome it’s many, many flaws to at least deliver a fun time at the movies. And while Jung-jae’s debut could have been maybe a bit smarter, it’s at least a great showcase of his talents if he should ever wanna direct in the future.