Back in November, I encouraged everyone to get over their fear of subtitles and watch Bong Joon-Ho’s masterful drama Parasite. It went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture just a few months after I made my recommendation. If you took my advice and beat your subtitle phobia, or if you’ve been a foreign film fan all along, I’ve got a treat this week that will liven up your summer without multiplexes.
Time to Hunt is a South Korean action film that debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in February. It would’ve taken the festival circuit by storm if the coronavirus hadn’t already done that. However, thanks to a couple of speedy distribution deals, the festival circuit’s loss is Netflix’s gain.
The film cleverly combines two popular genres: the heist film and the dystopian adventure drama. In the near future, Jun Seok has been released from prison after serving two years for a botched heist he attempted with his two best friends. He served his time and kept his mouth shut, leaving his friends in the clear. During his incarceration the world changed drastically. The value of Korean currency crashed, and the stash from the gig that landed him in prison is now worthless.
The three men want only one thing: to escape the urban hellscape they find themselves living in so they can begin a new life in another country. They decide to pull one last job that will allow them to do just that. Their target is an illegal gambling house that stores more U.S. currency than they could possibly spend. But, even in the dystopian South Korea of the future, it’s never a good idea to steal from The Mob.
From a narrative standpoint, Time to Hunt makes some fascinating story-telling choices. In a typical heist film, we spend 90 minutes watching the meticulous planning that goes into the job, and in the final 15 to 30 minutes, we see it all go down. Time to Hunt is more interested in the aftermath of the heist, the series of events that follows if three ordinary men tangle with members of organized crime. By emphasizing the ripple effect of the heist, the film breathes new life into a tired genre.
Time to Hunt is also concerned with character development. The three friends who attempt the life-changing heist become flesh and blood people in the midst of all the action and mayhem. It’s a rarity in action cinema to truly care about what happens to the characters on screen.
In most modern action films, the characters are expendable. They are either cannon fodder for the explosions and pyrotechnics of the action scenes or they’re indestructible superheroes who dust themselves off and move on to their next adventure. Not so in Time to Hunt. The emphasis on character and the bonds that exist between these three men causes the audience to invest in the outcome of the film. It’s an action film with genuine stakes.
Although I enjoyed the convenience of seeing the film at home, Time to Hunt features beautiful cinematography and lighting design that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible. It gave my 85-inch Sony a serious workout. It’s one of those visual extravaganzas that may not always make narrative sense. (Why is that hallway lit by a giant red light?) But, visual spectacle is part of the fun.
Time to Hunt is playing now on Netflix. I highly recommend it. It’s a cut above your average VOD action film.
If you’re interested in hearing more of my thoughts on Time to Hunt, check out a recent episode of The B Movie Podcast where I discuss the film with Los Angeles area film critic, Adam Kautzer. If you never actually got over that fear of subtitles, you should still start your journey into foreign film with Parasite. It’s currently streaming on Hulu.