In writer and director Yoon Sung-hyun’s ‘Time to Hunt,’ he reimagines a dystopian South Korea that is suffering from a financial crisis and owes the IMF billions and billions of dollars. While the city still looks impressive in the distance, Yoon keeps his camera in the outskirts of the city. It’s such a striking image that is so unlike any Korean movie or Korean dramas that I’ve seen since their cinema has gotten into my radar five years ago.
‘Time to Hunt’ is set in these barren cityscapes with empty streets and empty buildings. There’s graffiti on the walls of the bare buildings and there are vagrants and beggars walking in the background. This is the setting for a story about three friends whose way of life has been lost to this crisis and must turn to crime to survive.
In fact, the story begins with Ki-hoon (Choi Woo-sik of ‘Parasite’) and Jang-ho (Ahn Jae-hong of ‘Fight for My Way’) talking about a smuggling opportunity as they take a drive to pick up their friends Jun-seok (Lee Jehoon of ‘Where Stars Land’), who has just been released from a 3-year prison term.
As they celebrate the release of Jun-seok, he surprises his three friends with a plan to rob a gambling den. A “last job” to fund their exodus from Korea and into a new country and finally go legit and live on the beach “where it is always sunny.”
From the moment the plan is set in motion, the tension of this action/thriller never lets up. From the caper to all the events that happen after, it is a suspenseful thriller in a world that is dark and unfamiliar; a stark picture of a broken world where the law seems powerless and out of reach for the people forgotten by the government and the economy.
While the social commentary of Yoon Sung-hyun’s action/thriller is evident in every magnificent scene, from the production design to the camera work, what really drives the point across is the magnificent performances by Choi, Ahn, and Lee. Despite the risky and danger of their caper, Yoon is careful to focus on the little details. Their shaking hands, the beat and deep breaths that they take right before they take the step across the point of no return, and false bravado that comes with youth. Jun-seok, Ki-hoon, and Jang-ho are not innocents but they are also victims of the failing economy and the broken world of ‘Time to Hunt.’
To create the sense of suspense and thrill is the quiet moments that Yoon has written and directed with care that humanizes these three and explores the true nature of their characters and their friendship. As much as this world has crumbled apart, it is their bond that keeps them going and their dream of getting out of these slums, this failing city, and starting over.
Even when things get from bad to worse, that dream becomes the pulse of life that keeps them going. For a chase movie that runs for two hours and 14 minutes, it has a beating heart and a moral center that is never overshadowed by the tension or the dystopian setting or the action.
Even when the story is further complicated halfway by an unrealistic character choice by a character called Han (played by Park Hae-soo of ‘Prison Playbook’), it doesn’t feel so off when you take into account the world that has been built and, as a later revelation uncovers the reason, continues to impress upon us how far away from a familiar world this setting truly is.
Wonderfully executed, ‘Time to Hunt’ is as much a cautionary tale as it is an action/thriller. It’s a world that is so unfamiliar but it is easily recognizable as something that may happen if we aren’t careful.
Time to Hunt is now streaming on Netflix.