By David Baldwin
It is the 1980s and The President of South Korea has just had an assassination attempt made on his life. He survived thankfully, but now the KCIA is fiendishly trying to figure out how this could have happened. To make matters worse, somebody codenamed Donglim has apparently been feeding South Korean secrets to the North. Now it is up to Foreign Unit Chief Park Pyong-ho (Emmy-winning Squid Game Actor Lee Jung-jae, also HUNT’s Director and Co-Writer) and Domestic Unit Head Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung, also at the Festival with his directorial debut, A Man of Reason) to smoke-out the rat.
For a feature Directorial debut, HUNT is slick and pulse-pounding. It kicks-off with an elaborate action sequence and foot chase before evolving into a cat and mouse espionage thriller that was constantly reminding me of Infernal Affairs (and its Best Picture Oscar-winning American remake, The Departed). And while Lee and his behind the scenes team manage to inject a number of additional wild and brutal action scenes (and gratuitous torture scenes) peppered throughout the running time, his Script written alongside Jo Seung-hee suffers from a complete lack of narrative coherency. Characters are introduced and then killed-off just as quickly. The few that manage to stay breathing slightly longer have muddled loyalties, and end up double, triple and quadruple crossing each other multiple times. It is a challenge to keep up with it all and I will readily admit that HUNT may benefit immensely from a second watch – one where you can hopefully pause and write everything happening out on a whiteboard.
All of that said, Lee and Jung are both compelling leads who do incredibly well at antagonizing the hell out of each other and the people around them. They each get plenty of time to shine and are crucial elements to the crazy action scenes. The charisma and presence both actors bring to the screen is captivating, and one of the key reasons why I stuck around watching right up until the end. Neither is well characterized, but they do not have to be. They just have to be along for the ride, and well, mission accomplished.
HUNT screens as follows at TIFF ’22:
Thu, Sep 15 IN-PERSON Roy Thomson Hall 9:00pm
Fri, Sep 16 IN-PERSON Scotiabank Theatre 11:30am
Sun, Sep 18 IN-PERSON Scotiabank Theatre 7:30pm