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November 10, 2022

Denver Film Festival - Hunt


Lee Jung-jae - 2022
Magnolia Pictures

South Korean star Lee Jung-jae has made a very assured debut as a director with the big scale Hunt. Lee may be best known in the U.S. for starring in Squid Game, while those who have followed popular South Korean cinema would be familiar with several of his films prior to Netflix stardom. Hunt can also be included as part of South Korea's spy genre involving an agent from North Korea set to cause some form of political disruption, distinguished by elaborate action set pieces that rival anything in the James Bond series, including several gun fights, a couple of car chases, and big explosions.

The film takes place in 1983, inspired in part by real life events. Lee revised the film since its initial screening at Cannes to make it more clear for those unfamiliar with Korean history from that time, with opening credits advising that the film should be understood as a work of fiction. The film opens with an attempt to assassinate South Korea's president while he is in Washington D.C. A sniper is discovered and guns are blazing within the building where the North Korean operatives are hiding, pursued by South Korean security forces. Due to the suspected security leak, the chiefs of two rival security forces are tasked with discovering the mole in the government. This is somewhat analogous to having the FBI and the CIA both given the same assignment. The two chiefs, Park and Kim, have their own messy history, working together while also suspicious of each other.

While relationships within the government are internecine, they are reflective of attitudes in South Korea. Those supporting the pro-democracy movement in South Korea. at a time when martial law was imposed, were deemed to be communists. Clubbings and torture were part of the order of the day for those enforcing state security. Because of the various twists and turns in the story, attention is required to follow what is going on with the constantly changing relationships between characters. One of the tensest action scenes involves the two security teams given conflicting orders, causing confusion in an attempt to assist a defector and his family, resulting in a gun battle between North and South Koreans agents. While it might be clear who the bad guys are, by the end of the film one is not sure if there are any good guys.

Lee co-wrote the screenplay in addition to starring as Park and serving as director. Jung Woo-son plays Park's rival, Kim. Jung may be familiar as the "Good" in The Good, the Bad, the Weird and the more recent Beasts Clawing at Straws. Another Squid Game actor, Heo Sung-tae, appears here as a North Korean pilot and possible defector.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 10, 2022 06:46 AM