Netflixable? Korean crooks are prey in “Time to Hunt (Sanyangeui sigan)”

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A nerve-wracking Korean heist-gone-wrong thriller goes seriously wrong itself when “Time to Hunt (Sanyangeui sigan)” devolves into straight-up melodrama.

An ill-conceived armed-robbery, a naive “crew” that figures it’s gotten away clean when it hasn’t, and all the resources of the mob that ran the illegal gambling house they hit are ignored and a lone assassin goes on the “hunt.”

Worse still, he’s a predator who likes to play with his food. You know what that means. He toys with his prey, amps up their panic by taking his time, giving them a head start, even a chance to return fire, now and again. And you KNOW he’s going to talk, when silence is the scariest thing he could use on them.

It’s a shame, because the young actors and the characters they play, teaming up for a job they’re not quite up to, are a charismatic collection of gangland “types.” Their “plans” seem elaborate — because like most crooks, they’re not criminal masterminds.

Jun Seok (Lee Je-hoon) is fresh out of prison when he regales his old pals, the thoughtful Ki-Hoon (Choi Woo-sik) and the oafish Jang-ho (Ahn Jee-hong), that all they really need is that “one last score.”

Yeah, they say that in Korea, too (dubbed into English, or in Korean with English subtitles).

There’s this island off Taiwan where the sea is green and the living is easy. Steal some U.S. dollars, and they’ll be set for life.

The “job” Jun Seok comes up with isn’t rocket science, but stealing from a basement “gambling house?” Ill-advised. Desperate times in the Korea of the near future, with IMF protests and economic strife far and wide, inspire desperate crimes.

The benchmarks in such movies are covered — the planning (underdeveloped), arm-twisting an “inside man” (Park Jeong-min, who should be in a KPop band, with that hair), meeting an underworld gun dealer. The job itself goes off with a minimal fuss.

The mob they’re stealing from just misses grabbing them, and the leaders are furious. The guys?

“We’re safe! We did it!”

And then the dominoes start to fall and the hunter (Park Hae-soo) is on their scent.

Writer-director Yoon Sung-hyun has been directing movies for a decade, and he should certainly know that turning this tale into a solitary stalk has its advantages and serious shortcomings.

The “super-hunter” is charismatic, a cool costumer who sizes his quarry up and takes his time. But that stops the movie cold. A 90 minute thriller runs way over two hours when that happens.

The urgency goes right out the window, even though some of that is attributable to the criminals being utterly stunned at becoming the prey.

They’re young, did their time in the military and know a little something about guns. But when the pieces start to fall and the incriminating calls start to come in and the gang starts to shrink, they freeze-up. They should high-tail it, as stagecoach robbers used to put it. No. Let’s get caught in a hospital where the hunter Han can find us.

I was pretty forgiving of this right up to the finale, which is ridiculous, a sequence of scenes that don’t play by the rules the movie has set up. Characters are misplaced, people go down, get up, and are gunned down again. We wait for an absurd third act “intervention” because we know it’s coming. That’s what sloppy genre pictures stumble into.

“Time to Hunt” turns tiresome many minutes before it utterly wears out its welcome.

MPAA Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, profanity, smoking

Cast: Lee Je-hoon, Ahn Jae-hong, Choi Woo-sik, Park Jeong-min, Park Hae-soo

Credits: Written and directed by Yoon Sung-hyun.  A Sidus/Netflix release.

Running time: 2:16

 

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