Hunt Is Like Michael Mann's Heat Crossed With A Spy Thriller, And Hollywood Should Take Note [Fantastic Fest]

"Squid Game" star Lee Jung-jae makes his directorial debut with the ass-kicking, almost delightfully convoluted thriller, "Hunt." Sometimes, actors just aren't cut out for directing, but Lee clearly has a knack for it. He's also heavily influenced by filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Michael Mann, and there's something refreshing about seeing a big, slick, adult-driven movie like this that has absolutely nothing to do with IP, or superheroes, or brand synergy. Hollywood used to make movies like this all the time, but these days, it seems like Nolan is the only one who can successfully get them off the ground (even Mann has been absent from the big screen for a few years). 

I'm not saying "Hunt" is some knock-out masterpiece. It's overlong — some would even say it's bloated. It's also so full of twists and turns that you're bound to get exhausted trying to keep up with it all. Who is doing what, and for who, and why, changes from scene to scene, and all we can do is try to keep up. But that's fine — I don't need every movie to be a masterpiece. But it would be nice if we could get more mostly-successful movies like this from America, instead of the cookie-cutter garbage studios love to pump out these days.

Set in South Korea in the 1980s, "Hunt" involves lots of political intrigue that I will freely admit I had trouble following. I'm a dumb American, and I'll own up to that. But you don't really need to be well-versed in the politics of it all to go along with the ride. Lee plays KCIA Foreign Unit chief Park Pyong-ho, a quiet, no-nonsense man who doesn't suffer others lightly. When we first meet the character, he helps foil an assassination attempt on the South Korean President (the character is never given a name and is only referred to as "The President"). The plot may have failed, but danger is still lurking. There's fear of North Korean spies on every corner, but is that fear justified, or paranoia? Torture plays a hand in this all, and the knowledge learned under such duress can't be trusted. 

Take a hint, Hollywood

Park has other problems besides would-be assassins. He's constantly at odds with Domestic Unit chief Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung), a character who seems suspicious from the get-go. The relationship between Park and Kim recalls the antagonistic friendship between Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in Michael Mann's "Heat." Like the characters in "Heat," Park and Kim are diametrically opposed. And yet, they're more alike than they may realize. But neither will hesitate to kill the other if need be. 

I ate all of this up. Again: Hollywood used to make movies like this all the time, and it's easy to see some American producer buying the rights to "Hunt" and trying to stage a big American remake. But if so, it will still be second-hand work. What I'm longing for are major American studios getting back to creating this sort of thing on their own. By all means, give me a big-budget thriller where actors stand around in shadowy rooms and shout at each other about political intrigue. Think "Night Moves," or "The Hunt For Red October," or Hitchcockian classics, or, again, "Heat." I want more of this, damn it. To quote Pacino in "Heat," "Gimme all ya got!"

Watching "Hunt," I couldn't help but think that if someone wanted to make this movie in Hollywood these days, they'd be turned down by every studio and would eventually have to adapt the entire thing into a bloated streaming show that would be forgotten after the weekend it premieres. I'm not saying we can't enjoy it when foreign language films take up this cause — I just wish Hollywood could find a way to get back to this, too. Because it's solid stuff, and it plays.

And what's even better is the action. It's here where Lee shows off his true directorial skills, staging several jaw-dropping action sequences, including loud, Michael Mann-like firefights in the streets, with guns blazing as cars slam into each other and characters look on, grim and determined. The plot may be needlessly complex, and the twists may grow exhausting, but gosh, "Hunt" packs in so much action and drama that I couldn't help but enjoy it all — and wish Hollywood would take a hint.