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- Reviewed at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
When the South Korean series Squid Game became a global hit for Netflix in September 2021 it was inevitable we’d be seeing more from the show’s lead actor, Lee Jung-jae. Lee makes his directorial debut and stars in Hunt, a barrelling juggernaut of an action feature packed with even more thrillingly violent action scenes and jaw-dropping shocks than Squid Game managed across its nine episodes. Unfortunately, in all its excitement, Lee occasionally forgets to keep things comprehensible or believable.
It’s 1983, four years after real-life South Korean president Park Chung-hee was assassinated by the chief of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA). Fictional KCIA foreign unit chief Park Pyong-ho (Lee) leads the operation to stop an attempt on the current president at a concert hall in Washington. It’s an ambitious opening that has fine stunt work, a hefty body count, a breakneck pace and violent spectacle fit to finish most films – and sets the tone for what follows. Park is soon gathered with domestic unit chief Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung) and the pair are ordered to find a mole named Donglim who’s apparently been working within the KCIA for years. Park and Kim have their own scores to settle, given that the former was violently interrogated by the latter years ago with a legacy of permanent nerve damage. They both suspect each other and set to work uncovering leads.
Beneath its bombast this is a rudimentary spy-game thriller, the trope of spies vs moles mounted with more depth and subtlety in, for instance, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy (2012), and with greater clarity in the Mission: Impossible franchise. In Hunt, there are so many flashbacks and mysterious references to past operations as to make it almost unintelligible and at 130 minutes it feels long – despite having a pace and vitality many lesser action films would kill for. Believability also buckles when a key witness recovers in hospital and we see a sniper assassinate the unlucky bed-ridden spy from atop a nearby building through a giant inviting window.
If one can overcome such gripes, there is fun to be had watching Hunt – one street gun battle is almost as heart-stopping as the celebrated set-piece in Heat (1995), while the Bangkok-set climax is a booming spectacular of explosive carnage and furious gunplay worth waiting for. Lee’s monster shoot-out spy thriller is an auspicious debut; one only hopes he’ll jettison the convoluted adornments next time.
Sight and Sound, Summer 2022
Sight and Sound celebrates its 90th anniversary in style. Plus: the Cannes bulletin, Pedro Almodóvar, Ukrainian cinema, The Innocents and Edgar Wright interviewing Daniels.Find out more and get a copy