14 June 2024

Film Review – Hunt (2022)

High-octane violence, bullets galore and near non-stop action. It’s what we’ve come to expect from Korean thrillers and, while Hunt fits that mould, it’s also a film that demands something more from its audience. A little knowledge of modern Korean history. It makes sense, so bear with us ….Set in 1983, the story takes place in the long shadow cast by the assassination of South Korean President Park Chung-hee in 1979. His death at the hands of head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency brought a 16 year dictatorship to a close and his successor is in place when the film opens. In the more recent background, however, is the Gwangju Massacre, when citizens and students demonstrating against martial law took up arms against government forces. History lesson over.

With espionage and politics just as important as the action, Squid Game’s breakout star Lee Jung-jae has chosen a story for his directorial debut with more twists and turns than a bowl of noodles. He also portrays one of the two government security chiefs (the other is played by Jung Woo-sung) who are constantly trying to out-do each other in protecting their new leader. Rumours abound of a mole, one who’s been undercover for years but has constantly eluded detection. Tracking him or her down is the number one priority, but who and what on the screen should we believe?

That’s a simplified version of the storyline: a lengthier description would take the fire out of a frantic two hours full of explosive action, countless bullets, car crashes left right and centre and a plot that relishes taking you in one direction at a rate of knots, jacknifing and going down another road at the same breakneck speed. As far as trying to work out the identity of the mole is concerned, it’s a wonderfully baffling puzzle, teasing us with backstories that point the finger at one or other of the main suspects, as well as neatly giving us crucial insights into their characters. But we never know who to trust and that makes it all the more enjoyable. Full of double and triple crosses, there are moments when it seems that Lee Jung-jae gets carried away and loses the plot just a touch. Confusion – sometimes tinged with more than a little soap opera – is the result.

None of that spoils the entertainment value of the piece, but there’s a definite shift as it enters the latter stages. The wheels start to come off, everything goes right over the top, and the enormous set pieces towards the end become simply excessive instead of spectacular. In truth, the cat and mouse antics are often more interesting than the action, involving the audience in solving the mystery of the mole, with all the mental gymnastics that go with it. Fans of Korean thrillers will know exactly where they are with Hunt and enjoy it for that. So come for everything you expect from the genre, but stay for all the tricky machinations that go with finding that infiltrator.

★★★1/2


Thriller, Action | Cert: 15 | UK cinemas from 4 November 2022 | Altitude Releasing | Dir. Lee Jung-jae | Lee Jung-jae, Jung Woo-sung and Hye-jin Jeon.


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