South Korean actor Lee Jung-Jae has had a resurgence in popularity in North America, most notably for his key role in Squid Game. Although I have not seen the Netflix Original, it’s one I now intend to see to the end, thanks to his directorial debut Hunt.
Hunt takes place in the 1980s at the height of military dictatorship in South Korea, with two KCIA agents embroiled in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. Chief Park (Lee) and Chief Kim (Jung Woo-sung) are at the center of an investigation surrounding the leaking of critical operations. With the president’s life at stake and never knowing who to trust, Park and Kim push themselves to their limits to discover which of their fellow agents is the North Korean spy known as Donglim.
The premise of Hunt is as alluring and exciting as it sounds. From the film’s opening act, it reels audiences in with incredibly choreographed action and storytelling. However, the consulted storytelling and sometimes over-the-top action end up holding Hunt back from being something truly special.
Lee taking on both sides of the camera also speaks volumes about his familiarity with his craft. Hunt is tightly directed, and while it may be over-indulgent at times, it’s still an incredibly compelling film. The military-controlled South Korea backdrop ratchets up the tension, making our characters feel in danger even in a “safe” environment.
The main characters of Park and Kim each have different ways of dealing with problems in their government. Feeling like two sides of the same coin, Hunt uses its two leads to their full advantage. Directing duties didn’t weigh too hard on Lee’s performance, whose world-weary performance would feel at home in any spy thriller. Meanwhile, Jung brings a physicality to his role that gives him a fundamentally different weight onscreen.
The search for Donglim is a compelling and thrilling plot point that drives the whole film. However, Hunt loses its footing on multiple occasions when dealing with the convoluted double and sometimes triple crossings. Par for the course for most spy movies with lofty ambitions.
And Hunt has lofty ambitions indeed. From the cinematography to the action set pieces, the film feels massive. The spy thriller has one botched operation after another, leading to many entertaining shootouts. It’s impressive how director Lee and co. manage to weave all the set pieces as part of a larger investigation. However, with so much action also comes an equal need to justify the absurd amount of shooting.
Unfortunately, Hunt doesn’t always hit the mark in that category. Between all the explosions and fights, the hunt for Donglim eventually becomes like a dog chasing its own tail. The film slowly loses its allure and promise of espionage and becomes a bit too wrapped up in its action. The agents involved in the action also take an absurd amount of punishment. From buildings falling on top of them to the agents themselves falling off of almost every type of structure possible, it becomes harder and harder to suspend disbelief.
By the time Hunt ends, there have been so many twists, turns, and triple crosses you begin to wonder what it was all for. The movie switches around its characters’ arcs and motivations so often that it feels a little too hard to follow.
Despite its narrative flaws, Hunt is still a wildly entertaining espionage thriller. While the plot may not add up by the end, there are still plenty of fun espionage to keep you entertained. It’s an inspired effort from Lee, and I cannot wait to see where his directing career goes from here. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Hunt is Pending a Wide Release Date.
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