Time to Hunt Movie Review (Korean): An effective heist-horror hybrid
A well-made dystopian thriller that haunts you
The dystopian world in the new Korean thriller Time to Hunt doesn't look too different from our own lockdown-hit present, except for the fact the characters don't wear masks. The streets look the same -- lots of cars but few little people. The Korean currency has become worthless; the U.S dollar has taken its place.
Director: Yoon Sung-Hyun
Cast: Lee Je-hoon, Ahn Jae-hong, Choi Woo-sik, Park Jeong, Park Hae-soo
It's a time of desperation for three youngsters and their families barely inching by in the ghettos. They need a quick scheme to exit their miserable existence. Enter their friend Jun-seok, a felon who just lost three years for an ill-advised crime. When he comes up with another plan -- to rob a mob-owned casino -- the others reluctantly go along.
We have seen this story before. But Time to Hunt proves it's still possible to mine a truckload of intense moments from this simple premise, provided the packaging appears fresh. The plight of the four characters -- one of them played by Parasite's Choi Woo-sik -- make them worth rooting for, despite their proclivity for breaking the law to survive.
Stealing from the mob has its consequences, naturally, and these four are not ready for what is yet to come. When a terrifying killer called Han (played by Park Hae-soo) picks up their trail, they are left with very less time to catch a breath or change their sweat-drenched clothes. Han's menacing presence alone justifies this film's existence.
Blessed with a nightmare-inducing personality, Han is as relentless as Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 or Anton Chigurh (from No Country for Old Men) -- he could give them tough competition in the creep-o-meter. In the film, he is mostly shrouded in shadows. He does show his face, but you wish he remained in the shadows because his dead eyes give him the impression of a cyborg/zombie. Combine that with the oppressive industrial landscape and what we get is an absorbing thriller that packs as much white-knuckle tension as the first Terminator film.
After the initial 30 minutes or so, the film essentially becomes a cat-and-mouse thriller. And Koreans have proven time and again that they're great at this sort of thing. There are a few instances where the four youngsters come close to Han, and though you want them to get away from him, a sort of wicked delight is to be found in the way he pursues and taunts them. An underground car park sequence is milked for maximum chills. No one knows exactly who or what Han works for. There is a scene, midway through the film, when Han has a conversation which reveals his intention to be much different from what was originally assumed.
Time to Hunt has the texture of a nightmare you don't want to experience. At one point, when the four manage to get out of a near-death experience, one of them asks if it is a nightmare. We wonder the same. But there is also enough emotional heft in the narrative to back all its nail-biting scenarios. The bonding moments between the four are convincingly genuine and it's why some of the losses in the film's finale feel a bit painful.
The film is also confronting about one's fears. Jun-seok -- the aforementioned felon -- is suffering from the after-effects of a psychological trauma, possibly developed in prison. When the fates of some of the characters are left ambiguous, they manifest in the form of his nightmares.
Some may find the conclusion a bit unsatisfactory as it doesn't offer any easy answers. But one could chalk that up to Jun-seok's state of mind. The voice-over at the end hints at a new battle. For now, this will do.