HUNT (헌트) (2022)

Genre: Action/Thriller
Director: Lee Jung-jae
Cast: Lee Jung-jae, Jung Woo Sung, Jeon Hye Jin, Heo Sung Tae, Go Youn Jung, Kim Jong Soo, Jung Man Sik
Runtime: 2 hrs 6 mins
Rating: NC16 (Violence)
Released By: Encore Films
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 1 September 2022

Synopsis: Can the hunted become the hunter? After a high-ranking North Korean official requests asylum, KCIA Foreign Unit chief Park Pyong-Ho (Lee Jung Jae) and Domestic Unit chief Jim Jung Do (Jung Woo Sung) are tasked with uncovering a North Korean spy, known as Donglim, who is deeply embedded within their agency. When the spy begins leaking top secret intel that could jeopardise national security, the two units are each assigned to investigate each other. In the tense situation where if they cannot find the mole, they may be accused themselves, Pyong-ho and Jung-do slowly start to uncover the truth. In the end, they must deal with an unthinkable plot to assassinate the South Korean President…

Movie Review:

Thanks to the unprecedented success of Netflix’s ‘Squid Game’, Lee Jung-jae is probably the most recognisable Korean actor around the world today. ‘Hunt’ therefore arrives at a perfect timing when Lee’s star is shining to show that the almost 50-year old actor is just as capable behind the camera as he is in front of it.

Indeed, by any measure, ‘Hunt’ is an ambitious step-up for Lee. Not only does he assume the lead role of Park Pyung-ho, the domestic chief of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), Lee also directs and co-scripts this twisty espionage thriller set against the backdrop of the political chaos which rocked South Korea in the early 80s.

Opening in Washington D.C., the film kicks off (literally) with a bang as the South Korean president becomes the target of an assassination attempt during a State visit. Though the attempt is foiled, Park and his counterpart Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung), the foreign chief of the KCIA, are taken to task by their director, who further suspects that there could be a mole within their organisation.

Instead of joining forces, Park and Kim find themselves distrusting each other even more when the former, on an operation in Tokyo to retrieve a high-profile North Korean defector, finds out that the latter’s special operations mission in North Korea has been compromised. To top it off, their new director instructs the two unit chiefs to investigate each other, which further fuels their mutual animosity.

Whilst their rivalry takes centre stage, it is hardly the be-all and end-all of a very busy narrative, which packs double-dealings, triple-crosses and betrayals within two tense hours. Lee certainly displays no lack of ambition juggling the dense thicket of plot complications amidst their spy-versus-spy game, and for the most part maintains just tight enough narrative control not to let things spin out of control.

It is also to Lee’s credit that he doesn’t let the film become dominated by Park and Kim alone, establishing the storytelling space instead for two compelling female supporting characters to emerge; that includes Yoo-jung (Go Youn-jung), a college student to whom Park looks after whose late father was Park’s informant, and Ju-kyung (Jeon Hye-jin), Park’s deputy whose resourcefulness proves tragically fatal after uncovering a shocking truth that resets the audience’s perspective for a blistering third act.

Indeed, it is not hard to see why Lee had chosen ‘Hunt’ for his debut behind the camera. It offers Lee a crackerjack role as Park, whose motivations turn out far more complex than what you would imagine at the start of the film. It also offers a classic match-up with Jung, the face-off between them one of the most intense we’ve seen in a long while on the big screen. And last but not least, it gives Lee the opportunity to execute a number of impressively slick action set-pieces with the help of sharp cinematography from Lee Mo-gae, including a gritty shootout along the streets of Tokyo, and a nail-biting climax with firefights, hand-to-hand clashes and explosions.

‘Hunt’ also excels at being bitter political commentary about the ramifications on governments, organisations and individuals when authoritarian leaders exploit the tools of power of the state to maintain their despotic reign. Besides highlighting a unique period in South Korean history when peaceful unification was to many far more than a pipe dream, it also hints at the complex relationship between the South and the US, as well as how such realities will inevitably create dysfunction even amongst those tasked to preserve peace and security in the country.

Even though it does get over-the-top at times, ‘Hunt’ never loses its storytelling propulsion, and is probably one of the finest conspiracy thrillers we’ve seen from Korean cinema. Besides packing in plenty of plot, it is also action-filled, character-driven and psychologically nuanced, adding layers to a rich and well-crafted narrative which borrows from the events of South Korea’s political history to offer some thoughtful lessons for today’s state of politics and geopolitics. And coming after ‘Squid Game’, ‘Hunt’ shores up Lee’s newfound genre status by reinforcing his talent both in front and behind the camera.

Movie Rating:

(Told with utter suspense, drama and emotion, 'Hunt' is a crackerjack spy-versus-spy thriller that boasts two compelling lead stars, character-driven action, and a twisty plot with lessons for today's political realities)

Review by Gabriel Chong 

You might also like:


Movie Stills