'Extreme Job' Review: South Korea's Smash Hit Cop Comedy Is A Blast [Fantasia Film Festival 2019]

When waiting in line to see the second most-viewed film in Korean history, expectations are high. Fortunately, Extreme Job did not disappoint. Well, mostly. Silly and inventive, Lee Byeong-heon's police comedy keeps the gags coming, until a tiring last half hour.Ryu Seung-ryong plays Ko, the Captain of a failing narcotics squad. The first time we see him he is hanging from a bungee swing next to a window looking in on a gambling ring. This attempt is so pathetic that even the perp they're trying to catch tells them how they should've done it the first of the film's inventive ...sequences. Captain Ko justifies his team's approach by saying that "our mission is to minimize personal damage". The suspect escapes and runs into oncoming traffic, causing a 16 car mashup on a busy Seoul street. So much for good intentions. After some finger wagging and wrist slapping from the Chief, the squad crashes a lunch celebrating Captain Ko's rival's promotion. There, Ko is given a lead that could save his career and earn him the promotion that everyone, except perhaps Ko himself, wants him to get.The task is surveilling the activities of a drug gang and their leader Moo-be (Shin Ha-kyun).  They set up shop on the other side of the street from where the gang is suspected of running their operation, in a nearly-deserted fried chicken restaurant called Brother Chicken. When they find out from the restaurant's owner that he's selling the place, they decide to buy it in the hopes that their targets will order delivery from them and they will finally be able to gain access to the hideout. The youngest and most eager to impress members of the squadron, Detective Jae-hoon (played by K-Pop star Gong Myung), offers up the money he'd been saving up for his wedding as the down payment. But Detective Ko insists instead on using his retirement fund, unbeknownst to his wife. Realizing that they'll have to actually start selling fried chicken if they don't want to arouse suspicion, each detectives' skills are put to the test in an amusing cooking montage in which one of them fries a chicken whole. Detective Ma's (Jin Seon-kyu) chicken, tossed in a rib marinade from a family recipe, conquers. Lured by the new "sticky chicken with rib marinade," customers flock to the restaurant. Seoul businessmen and women, Japanese tour groups and TV producers all want a piece. Before the detectives have time to clear the tables, Brother Chicken becomes a local hotspot. The scenes of the Detectives barking orders at each other over the sounds of hungry diners will resonate with anyone who has worked in a restaurant. Even if you haven't, the film speaks to how fast and how hard we can get swept up in a current we never planned on swimming in. We're not just overworking in the office, we're overworking at our undercover jobs. Indeed, none of the detectives seem especially passionate with the fried chicken business, they just don't know what else to do if not to keep cooking. In a voice-over,  Detective Ko rationalizes the situation when he says that he'd rather "good failure over inglorious success." If the film's best part is its detour into the kitchen, then perhaps that reveals a craving for more films about everyday jobs.Among Extreme Job's many qualities is the inspired, if at times unrelenting, direction by Lee Byeong-heon. Every scene is shot with visual flair and humour that elevates the actors' bold performances. In that way, his directing style is a natural outgrowth in the era of YouTube filmmaking, whereby attention spans have gotten shorter (or so we're constantly told) and filmmakers have had to adapt to keep their viewers from skipping to the next video. Perhaps the film's ability to keep audiences entertained accounts for the film's rabid success in Korea. Unfortunately, the film loses steam in the last half-hour and never recuperates. The drug gang and fried chicken squad face off in a long fight scene shot in a formulaic, un-imaginative way, as if just for the sake of getting coverage. The gags and slapstick go past overboard and into the realm of  the ludicrous. Certain character details that are meant to feel like plot twists come off as forced instead. Everything that precedes that last slump, however, is a joy to watch.  It's a shame that the English title conveys none of the film's meaty humour. Hopefully, the recently announced American remake with Kevin Hart will be released under a catchier title. How about Chicken Squad? Crispy Cops? Can you hear me Kevin?!/Film Rating: 8 out of 10