SYNOPSIS: Wanting to leave their dystopian world behind for a faraway paradise, three outlaws plot a money heist — and draw the attention of a vicious killer.
Sitting through the first half-hour, you might wonder what all the hype about writer-director Yoon Sung-hyun’s ‘Time to Hunt’ was about. The first Korean film to be selected to bow in the Berlinale Special section, it rode a wave of positive reviews before being picked up for worldwide release of Netflix as a result of the coronavirus pandemic scuttling its theatrical plans.
Yet, its sluggish opening that establishes three young buddies adrift in a dystopian version of South Korea of deserted streets littered with trash and crumbling buildings is hardly compelling stuff, especially as the trio of Jun-seok (Lee Je-heon), Jang-ho (Ahn Jae-hong) and Ki-hoon (Choi Woo-shik) aren’t exactly likeable or endearing.
Indeed, its promise only begins to show if you can sit through that slow start, picking up with our three protagonists robbing an underground casino by teaming up with one of its croupiers Sang-soo (Park Jung-min).
Their elation at having successfully pulled off the heist turns into fear when they realise they are being hunted by Han (Park Hae-soo), whom we are introduced to by way of a framed collection of human ears on the wall of his apartment. Han has been tasked to figure out who the thieves were, recover the handful of incriminating surveillance tapes which the boys had grabbed, and get rid of them thereafter.
While it may come as no surprise to us that Han is a vicious and sadistic killer, the realisation sends our naïve trio into a desperate cat-and-mouse game. That pursuit unfolds in a tense and gripping second hour within such locations as a parking garage, a hospital building and an abandoned industrial estate.
Those looking for some character payoff within this hour will quite likely be disappointed, given how Yoon trains his sights on the action and nothing more. Oh yes, despite running for their lives, these youths hardly break ranks with one another, remaining closely knit right till the very end. What plot development is therefore limited to some vague revelation about Han’s ties to the authorities, as well as the late entrance of a criminal gang seeking revenge for Han’s execution of their leader’s twin brother.
Not that we are complaining really, seeing as how Yoon fulfils his promise of delivering a hard-hitting science fiction action thriller ultimately. There is no questioning the well-staged sequences pumped with suspense and firepower, soaked in a moody post-apocalyptic aesthetic that is the best excuse for its dystopian setting which otherwise goes nowhere. These sequences are anchored by a mesmerising performance by Park, whose steely charisma easily triumphs the annoying pusillanimity of his character’s prey.
And in case you must know, the ending leaves the door wide open for a revenge sequel, which if it does materialise, will hopefully cut to the chase. Comparisons with Western tropes is inevitable, though those familiar with urban crime movies by Michael Mann (think ‘Heat’ and ‘Collateral’) and Christopher Nolan (think ‘The Dark Knight’) will also recognise his inspirations.
Truth be told, it does fall somewhat short of its hype, but ‘Time to Hunt’ does well enough within its generous two hours-over runtime to satisfy genre fans looking for testosterone-fuelled escapism. Especially if you need a follow-up to the adrenaline-pumping ‘Extraction’, you won’t regret sitting through this title Netflix will likely recommend to you, as long as you give it more than half an hour to earn your love..
Review by Gabriel Chong