Hunt has great action sequences, but its plot is far too convoluted and its characters aren’t as interesting as Jung-jae thinks they are.
Lee Jung-jae’s directorial debut, Hunt, has some interesting elements in it. It’s a tightly directed actioner with decent enough performances. However, its lean plot starts to become way too convoluted for its own good by the time its second act comes to fruition, which results in an admirable, albeit messy, piece of work.
Jung-jae also stars in the movie as Park Pyong-ho, the Foreign Unit Chief of the KCIA, who has been working with Domestic Unit Chief Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung) in Washington to foil a plot to assassinate the South Korean president. However, they soon learn that there is a North Korean mole under their ranks, known by the name of “Donglim,” and the two unit chiefs pit themselves against one another, thinking they are Donglim. Park tries to find dirt on Kim, while the other starts to interrogate members of his team.
Audiences will obviously know who Donglim is by the time the movie is over, but they may not care. At least I didn’t, because Jung-jae’s sense of pace is severely lacking throughout the film. He throws so many twists and turns at the screen that he forgets the golden rule of most great action blockbusters: keep it simple. The simpler the plot, the better you can focus on other elements to make it truly great. The plot is simple: two agents are pitted against each other because they think one of them is the mole. It’s obvious that the mole is one of the two (it would’ve been funny if they were both Donglim, but alas), and so the remainder of the movie should have been a game of cat-and-mouse for the audience to figure out who is truly Donglim.
Jung-jae should have consistently misdirected the audiences in a fun and engaging way, but he rarely does it. As such, the character development between Park and Kim is sparse and severely limited. The side characters are also poorly written and fleshed out. I’ll be honest, there were many characters that would pop in and out of the story too many times for me to remember who they were and what their purpose was in the story. Jung-jae and co-screenwriter Jo Seung-hee add too many characters that serve little to no purpose in the story and only help convolute the plot further. I remembered once they introduced a somewhat pivotal character to the story, only for him to disappear into the picture for a good amount of time. When he came back and Park was mentioning him, I went “who?” –that’s the sign that the story is too messy, and then my interest starts to dwindle.
Thankfully, the action scenes are spectacular. Should he direct another action film, Jung-jae would likely have a bright future ahead of him. All of them look visually staggering on the screen, particularly its climactic setpiece where Park tries to prevent the assassination of the South Korean president (again), as a sniper will shoot him when the music stops playing. He takes the “basis” of The Man Who Knew Too Much’s concert scene and puts it in a real-world situation where you should expect the unexpected. And the results are brilliant.
His action influences are quite clear; Jung-jae loves everything, from tightly choreographed brawls à la Police Story to elaborate shootouts in the vein of Michael Mann’s Heat. It’s all there, and they all look and sound terrific. And since the movie frenetically moves from one action scene to the next emulating many different styles, you’re never fully bored, even if you may lose interest in the story.
The performances from Jung-jae and Woo-sung are great, but I would’ve hoped that their character arcs be more developed. Because of this, Hunt is nothing more than an entertaining, albeit unfocused, action thriller that could’ve been more impactful had the movie focused on a leaner structure and had less characters, because the action sequences are truly out-of-this-world. A smart man once said “less is more.” In the case of Hunt, it would’ve been so brilliant. However, Jung-jae clearly has an eye for action that shouldn’t go to waste and I hope he comes back to the director’s chair with a leaner, and more effective, effort soon.
Hunt will be released in US theaters and on VOD on December 2, 2022.