Hunt (2022) – Review
(3 / 4)
Debut director and renowned actor Lee Jung-jae delivers violent spectacle with complex intrigue in gripping espionage thriller Hunt. Drawing on his decades of experience starring in Korean film and television, Lee directs, co-writes and stars in this self-produced passion project.
Best friend, fellow actor and frequent business partner Jung Woo-sung co-stars with Lee to headline Hunt‘s cast. Set your stage to the authoritarian Fifth Republic, the 1980s military dictatorship of South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan.
KCIA Foreign Unit chief Park Pyong-ho (Lee Jung-jae) and Domestic Unit chief Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung) are two bitter rivals with a sordid shared past. After narrowly foiling an assassination attempt on President Chun, the KCIA discovers a North Korean mole, Donglim.
As top secret intel continues to leak from Donglim, the Director of the KCIA tasks Park and Kim with investigating each other for involvement with the mole. Past enmities inflamed, the plot of Hunt quickly spirals into an epic cat-and-mouse game of twists and double-crosses.
At certain moments the plot is overly labyrinthine, but excellent performances from Lee and Jung carry Hunt on their shoulders. International audiences will be familiar with Lee from his starring role in Squid Game, however that only scratches the surface.
Both Lee and Jung have decades of critically acclaimed performances across a wide range of genres, and Hunt is merely additional proof of their versatility as actors. Accordingly, each of their performances demonstrate nuanced and intricate motivations.
Even more so, they both truly shine in their shared scenes, with their real-life chemistry electrifying the tension between Park and Kim. The push-and-pull between these two fiercely grabs the audience, and doesn’t let go until the credits start to roll.
Hunt blocks and choreographs large-scale action set pieces with clear visibility and well-timed spectacle. Where Western media would cut away out of discretion, Lee unabashedly displays bloody gunshot wounds in real-time. Each confrontation, big or small, comes with viscerally brutal stakes of suffering and death for every cast member.
Every cast member, except when Park and Kim are able to avoid harm while those surrounding suffer grievous injuries. The contrast between these easily killed mooks, and the lucky, durable protagonists, is an unfortunate inconsistency that strains immersion.
It’s not completely necessary to have a prior understanding of South Korean history before watching the film. However, you will get much more out of Hunt if you know about the military dictatorship and the Gwangju Massacre.
Above all, it’s important to keep in mind that Hunt was made for Korean audiences who learn this history in school. Lee has re-filmed scenes with new dialogue for the international release, bridging this cultural gap to an extent.
When it comes to supporting cast, the standout is Park’s ace subordinate, Agent Bang Joo-kyung (Jeon Hye-jin). Kim’s subordinate, Agent Jang Cheol-seong (Heo Sung-tae) is flat and dull in comparison to Jeon’s performance as Bang. Bang’s character has bite and edge which adds intrigue to her interactions with others in the setting.
Park’s ward, university student Jo Yoo-jeong (Go Yoon-jung) is uncompelling and the scenes that focus on her are trite and repetitive. The blame for this is largely due to the script and direction, as the actor is perfectly servicable in her performance. Her character and subplot are largely superfluous and could be cut to give the film a tighter narrative.
Hunt is a strong first showing for Lee Jung-jae’s directoral debut, albeit with some notable flaws. Engrossing action sequences and top-tier performances from the two lead actors ultimately sustain this feature. Audiences will enjoy this riveting high-tension spy thriller from curtain rise to credit roll.