Movie Review: Hunt (NC16)
In this espionage film set in South Korea's turbulent 1980s that marks Squid Game actor Lee Jung-jae's directorial debut, two men are locked in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse with each other.
Highly respected agent Park Pyung-ho (Lee) is the foreign unit chief of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency while former military man Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung) is its domestic unit chief.
When a North Korean mole known as Donglim leaks crucial information that threatens the safety of the country, the two chiefs set about investigating each other and, in the process, inch closer to a plot to assassinate South Korea's president.
The North-South Korea divide and the period of authoritarian rule under South Korea's fifth president Chun Doo-hwan has been the background for plenty of K-dramas and K-movies.
Hunt shows it is not without good reason.
North Korean spies with dreams of reuniting the Koreas, by force or otherwise; students fighting for freedom and democracy; corrupt government officials; betrayals and deaths - that part of history is a dramatic gold mine.
Lee - who directed, co-wrote and stars in the movie - uses that era's pervasive climate of distrust and fear to full effect in this action-packed tale that is so filled with twists and turns, it would be laughable if it was not so bombastic and exciting.
The high-speed car chases, gritty fight sequences and interrogation-with-torture scenes are all part of Hunt's excitement quotient - they are real, loud and downright painful to watch at points. But what gives the movie that nervous edge is the performances of Lee and Jung.
As Park, Lee delivers the weariness of someone who has dedicated his entire career to a cause and is afraid to think for a moment if it has been worth it. Jung, on the other hand, imbues his character with clear, steely-eyed purpose that makes him quietly intimidating.
As characters who hide their intentions, the duo hold their bodies with such tension in all their scenes, you wonder if they are about to have a heart attack.
And Lee has certainly leveraged his long career in entertainment to gather some of his A-list friends in bit parts for his first directorial feature.
Watch out for Hwang Jung-min - Lee's co-star in Deliver Us From Evil (2020) - who chews up the scenery with gusto in an unforgettable cameo that lasts less than five minutes. And see if you can spot Kingdom's (2019 to present) Ju Ji-hoon pop up in the background too.
Hot take: Trust the South Koreans to do an espionage tale well.
Rating: 4/5 stars