Photo: Berlinale
by Matt McCracken Film

Time to Hunt | Yoon Sung-hyun

March 6, 2020

The least that can be said of Korean director Yoon Sung-hyun is that he takes his time, with ten years separating the filmmaker’s debut coming-of-age drama Bleak Night and his multi-genre embracing sophomore effort Time to Hunt. The latest film bears superficial similarity to the director’s prior work: an evocative character study of three schoolboys and their relationship to the issues of bullying and teen suicide — focusing yet again on a group of young male friends — Jun-seok (Lee Je-hoon), Jang-ho (Ahn Jae-hong), and Ki-hoon (Choi Woo-shik) — only this time set in a quasi-dystopian, post-economic crash South Korea where gangs rule and the masses do whatever they can in order to survive. But where Bleak Night opted for a more serious-minded social commentary in relation to its subjects, Time to Hunt fills out its textured, near-post-apocalyptic milieu with gestures toward heist films, “consequences” dramas, slasher movies, and the woozy familial sentimentality of the Fast and Furious franchise. The central trio hatch a plan to trade in Korea for an idyllic Taiwanese island as soon as they rob a gambling den — which quickly goes awry when the mob that owns the makeshift casino enlists a dirty cop and psychotic assassin, Han (Park Hae-soo), to hunt the group and recover the money.

The basic grammar of the film’s genre influences are recognizable throughout and are well-served by the first act’s world-building, which effectively makes plain the country’s dire economic situation. However, as the film gets deeper into its 135-minute long runtime, it soon becomes obvious that it has not been developed to meaningfully engage the more granular details of the economic scarcity and precarity it references, nor to even utilize the genres it references to expand on these matters indirectly, but rather more to have each become contexts through which it can return to its saccharine dramaturgy and reiterate the importance of dreams and brotherhood. It all adds up to a film that is as hopelessly out of its depth as its characters, lacking the creativity to mimic the ambitions its artistic coordinates should inspire — a problem as evident in the film’s numerous lethargic setpieces as it is in the half-baked nature of the project as such. Owing to all this, Time to Hunt is more mediocre pastiche of all things current in blockbuster cinema than a genre picture in its own right, which at worst may signal that corporate Hollywood’s banalization of the industry has gone global; but more likely indicates that if a work this bloated, confused, and unimaginative — that even hints at a sequel, retroactively casting itself as a kind of superhero origin story — is the best Yoon Sung-hyun can do after ten years away from the industry, it might be best he take even more time out.

Published as part of Berlin International Film Festival 2020 | Dispatch 4.