A Korean crime thriller which fails to pay off
Dir. Yoon Sung-Hyun. South Korea. 2020. 134 mins.
Right now, distributors the world over will be eagerly shopping for South Korean product to grab themselves a slice of the ineffable Parasite magic – but they can afford to pass on Time To Hunt, a humourless and grindingly uninspired crime-don’t-pay action thriller. Writer-director Yoon Sung-hyun (2011’s Bleak Night) sets up a heist premise that is inevitably going to lead to a desperate pursuit – and subsequently delivers everything the viewer expects, pretty much when they expect it, but at a dogged pace that even the most committed of slow-burn aficionados could never have bargained for.
With his penchant for deliberate pacing, Yoon manages to blow opportunity after opportunity to make the most of his moody set pieces
The story takes place in a near-future Korea beset by economic collapse, turning streets into desolate, squalid wastelands steeped in toxic-looking urine-coloured light (a further, somewhat arbitrary touch of futuristic dressing is provided by incidental sightings of airships in the sky).
The film starts with young blade Jun-seok (Lee Je-hoon) getting out of prison and being greeted by his bosom pals, chunky loner Jang-ho (Ahn Jae-Hong) and foppish Ki-hoon (Choi Woo-sik, currently riding high as the son of the home-invading family in Parasite). Jun-soek has just served three years for the robbery he committed with his pals; because they got off scot free, they feel obliged to join him on his next job, designed to raise enough money for them to all live it up in Taiwan, their ill-gotten loot having already been either spent or devalued.
Arming themselves, they plan a what-could-go-wrong raid on a gang-owned gambling den. In fact, the job goes without a hitch, and they make a clean getaway – only to find themselves pursued by a mysterious nemesis (Park Hae-soo), a stone-cold killer whose main character trait is his carefully framed collection of severed human ears. Sure enough, he catches up with the boys after a cat-and-mouse pursuit – but then decides to give them a fair chance to escape, by way of a bit of sport, and to give director Yoon a chance to spin the story out far longer than required.
The young leads of this almost entirely male-cast film do fine, although panicking, gasping, sweating heavily and occasionally setting their jaws doggedly are pretty much all they’re required to do. Yoon and DoP Lim Won-geun drench the film in glum dystopian atmospherics – blood-red light for the night scenes, a fetching purple sky at one point – but the effect is oppressive and monotonous. And with his penchant for deliberate pacing, Yoon manages to blow opportunity after opportunity to make the most of his moody set pieces: the heist itself, a potentially tense stake-out in a car park, chases in a hospital and a deserted apartment block, fail to offer any real tension or excitement. And a limp, over-extended coda is a transparent set-up for a sequel that Time To Hunt comes nowhere near earning.
However, one has to give Yoon some credit for including not one but several fake dream sequences, which, however misguided, provide a dash of outré chutzpah lacking elsewhere.
Production company: Sidus, Union Investment Partners, Littlebig Pictures
International sales: Contents Panda (New), firstname.lastname@example.org
Producer: Rhee Handae
Screenplay: Yoon Sung-Hyun
Cinematography: Lim Won-Geun
Editors: Yoon Sung-Hyun, Wang Sung-Ik
Production design: Kim Bo-mook
Main cast: Lee Je-hoon, Ahn Jae-hong, Choi Woo-shik, Park Jeong-min, Park hae-Soo