Review: ‘Hunt’

'Squid Game' Star Lee Jung-jae’s Directorial Debut Is A Twisting Spy Thriller

South Korea in the early to mid 80s was a turbulent time as captured in Hunt. The constant threat from North Korea is always there, but the country seems to be turning against itself. Protests to overthrow the President run rampant. The government chooses to respond to these protests with violence. Their response further increases the divide between the people and their government. Amongst this turmoil is Park Pyong-ho (Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae), the KCIA’s Foreign Unit Chief. Constantly working to protect the President, Park is part of a team that foils an assassination plot on foreign soil.

Yet that threat was only scratching the surface. A North Korean spy named Donglim has infiltrated the KCIA and is leaking intel. KCIA Director Ahn (Kim Jong-soo) tasks Chief Park and Domestic Unit Chief Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung) with discovering the mole’s identity. Park and his trusty number two Agent Bang Ju-Kyung (Hye-jin Jeon) immediately get to work. Chief Kim has other ideas and sends Agent Jang Cheol-Sung (Heo Sung-tae) to investigate Park. As Donglim continues to wreak havoc, the stakes continue to grow as pressure from Director Ahn mounts.

Hunt is the directorial debut for Lee Jung-jae. It is also the feature length debut for writer Jo Seung-Hee. Jo has experience in television, but not the big screen. Hunt is an ambitious effort from both Lee and Jo for their first projects. Lee was offered a role in the film, and upon reading the script felt the urge to direct as well as star. In front of the camera Lee shines along with Jung. The two shoulder the film and take that challenge head on.

The spy genre is one we’ve seen countless times and can prove difficult for films to stand out in. Hunt tries to overcome this with some very clever elements woven in. With the film taking place in the 80s and aiming for realism, these elements had to be unique, but make sense. Sorry to say, you won’t be seeing any invisible cars here.

Spy films tend to get bogged down in twists and turns, trying to keep the audience guessing. Sometimes so much so that it hurts the product. Unfortunately, Hunt falls into this typical pattern. Multiple characters being introduced without much backstory, betrayals, unexpected friendships, and unclear motives all cause the narrative to become muddled – and not in a good way. There are times where Hunt seems to drag on which is tough to do with the constant jumping from action sequence to action sequence…with a little torture thrown in to spice things up.

The second half of the film does pick up, but some head scratching moments are still present. The problem is these head scratchers aren’t due to twists and turns, but unrealistic decisions and situations. Intelligence officers acting with little intelligence takes away from the atmosphere that Lee and Jo have created. In addition, seeing agents working on classified missions discussing secretive information openly is jarring. The first half shows the lengths people go to keep information secret, with the film seemingly abandoning that notion as it progresses. Hunt had potential to stand out when the dust settled. It squanders an opportunity to be truly special, but there is enough there for fans of the genre to enjoy.

Hunt is available now in theaters and VOD.