Having Squid Game star Lee Jung-jae as both its director and leading man ensures Hunt will be seen far beyond its native South Korea following the midnight premiere it received at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. And it deserves to be too, this explosively entertaining combo of Heat, Infernal Affairs and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy unfolding with a confidence and brio that belies the fact that it’s only his debut feature.
Set in South Korea in the early 1980s, the film takes place against a backdrop of long-standing tensions with communist North Korea and internal strife prompted by the martial law imposed by the country’s unpopular government. Into this mix are thrown Park Pyong-ho (Lee) and Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung), high-ranking agents from competing divisions of the South’s security services who each have their own reasons for hunting down the mole who has been leaking information to the North.
For Park, it’s connected to a double-cross in the past that left him with another man’s daughter (Go Youn-jung) to protect and mentor. In Kim’s case, it has links to a soldierly atrocity he was forced to participate in, one that has left him with few qualms when it comes to using torture to interrogate suspects.
There’s quite a lot of torture in Hunt in truth, with punishments extending from routine thumpings and lethal electrocutions to a form of human spit-roast. Sensitive souls might want to look elsewhere, then, though if you made it through Squid Game’s sadisms this shouldn’t pose too many problems.
Lee sets his stall out early with a bullet-strewn attempt on the president’s life that feels like all of In The Line Of Fire in the space of five minutes. And the slam-bang action continues with a manic firefight on the streets of Seoul, a raid on a launderette that takes everyone to the cleaners and a climactic set-piece in Thailand that truly puts the bang in Bangkok.
There’s a story too of course, but it’s quite a convoluted one so full of reversals, betrayals and the complexities of ’80s geopolitics you may have trouble keeping track. There are times, in fact, it has the feel of one of those old Spy vs Spy comic strips from Mad magazine, not least in the scene where Park and Kim’s mutual antipathy instigates a punch-up that sends them tumbling to the bottom of multiple flights of stairs.
At two hours and change Hunt definitely outstays its welcome, while it’s disappointing Lee has room for only two notable female characters. If you are up for some robust, relentless, blood-splattered mayhem, though, it’s well worth hunting down when it makes its way into cinemas.
Hunt does not currently have a UK release date. Stick with Total Film for all the latest coverage from Cannes 2022 – check out our review of George Miller's Three Thousand Years Of Longing, through that link.