TIME TO HUNT (2020)
Heist movie turned Cosmopolitan-Western shootout forges high tension as a set of likeable cons scramble for survival
It is commonplace to root for the central protagonist criminals of a film, but often for reasons of familiarity rather than virtue. What Time To Hunt does instead is provide a set of affable outlaw characters in a specific scenario that such audience cheer-leading can feel genuine.
Director Yoon Sung-hyun takes us to a dystopian South Korea to achieve this and the resulting desperation suggests a differing moral code is at play. For Yoon, the film is a stark departure from his brilliant 2010 coming-of-age drama Bleak Night, instead transiting to a highly stylised crime flick here.
Jun-seok (Lee Je-hoon, who also featured in Bleak Night) is released from prison after a previous botched heist, met by his best friends and fellow hoods Jang-ho (Ahn Jae-hong) and Ki-hoon (Choi Woo-shik, fresh from international stardom in Parasite).
With the Korean won suffering from a crash and the deserted city streets painting a bleak outlook, the trio plot the infamous heist movie “one-last-job”, targeting an illegal gambling house which has ample supplies of the more valuable US dollar. They then enlist casino employee and old friend Sang-soo (Park Jung-min) in the process.
What the heist instead attracts is the attention of a murderous marksman ‘Han’ (Park Hae-soo), who turns the boys into sport and leaves the tight-knit foursome running for their lives.
The overarching audience emotion of the film is tension, which Director Yoon builds superbly, with an often rapid heart-beat timed score setting the underlying pace.
The dystopian nature of South Korea is more of a footnote than many films that attempt to paint a “near-future hellhole”. We hear on a background news report that the South Korean government own the International Monetary Fund $115 billion, suggesting it is a specifically Korean financial crash which has taken place.
This setting provides two critical elements of the film. Firstly, rather than the bustling streets of a major city like Seoul, we have rundown shops and deserted warehouses, enabling the action to play out in unfettered isolation. As the film moves to an increasingly shoot-out format, it is reminiscent of a Western-style face-off taking place in a city location. Gamers will even find some familiarity to the set-up and action, as characters jump in and out of doorways and from behind cars to shoot.
Secondly, the setting and context of strife is what enables us to build that genuine sympathy to the criminal quartet. They just want out from this desperate wasteland, imaging a new life running a legitimate shop by a beach overseas. From here we can cheer for their fortunes without the feeling that crime has glamourised.
Some early viewer reaction to the film has suggested the film’s length, weighing in at 134 minutes, well north of many similar crime films, detracts from its overall impact. This is contestable, as the longer running time enables it to better develop its characters and stretch the tension further.
What it does particularly well is break free from the shackles of traditional heist and Korean action films and instead turns to the suspense, thriller and at times horror genres to build this tension.
The first Korean film to be screened in the Berlinale Special section at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2020 and with an international release on Netflix, Time To Hunt is likely to reach a broad global audience, and does a decent job of showcasing what the Korean crime genre has to offer.