Time to Hunt (2020) — Review

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A small-time hustler gets out of prison after serving a three-year sentence for robbery and he has a new plan to make a ton of money and leave South Korea for the sunny beaches of Taiwan. He ropes in two of his friends and another who owes him money to rob a local gambling house. Not everything goes as planned.

That is the basic outline of Time to Hunt. If one were to judge movies by their story outlines, one would never want to watch another after watching maybe the first two or three of its kind. But thankfully, there are elements to story such as characters, motivations, situations, themes and storytelling that make them different. The above outline could be fleshed out into anything from a crime drama, a dark comedy, a horror movie to a wall-to-wall action flick. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

So, what kind of movie is Time to Hunt? Well, the title does not leave a lot of room for guesswork — it is a crime thriller. And does it work? Yes, it does. A lot of credit for that goes to the movie’s ability to shift gears and morph into a different beast altogether almost seamlessly.

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The movie opens with a shot of two friends — Jang-ho (Ahn Jae-hong) and Ki-hoon (Choi-Woo-shik) bickering over clothes — branded or designer — in a grocery store. The banter continues even as the transaction ends and they step out of the store. The camera follows them and reveals a dystopian South Korean city. What was just a normal conversation between two friends a moment ago gets a different context with smog in the air and the homeless on the street. This opening shot establishes at the outset that these young boys, no matter how street-smart, aren’t really prepared for the world out there. When their friend Jun-seok (Lee Je-hoon), somewhat hardened by three years of jail time, joins them, we get to know that the present condition of the country and its people is not so because of any war or outbreak of disease, it was caused by economic meltdown. As the movie gradually starts painting the picture of a failed economy and the impact it has had on the people, especially the young, for whom escaping this bleak reality is the only way to move forward, even if it means taking great risks.

While the socio-political angst still simmers underneath, the movie continues to explore the three characters, their fears and their dreams and what they would not do to preserve the sanctity of the bond they share. And before you even get to say, “Hmm. A coming-of-age crime drama! I like where it is going,” it becomes a game of cat and mouse with a hint of a slasher.

The performances are on point, with the three leads bringing the just about the right mix of innocence, anxiety and boyish charm and ably complemented by the sinister, although underdeveloped, villain (they did try to flesh him out through his actions, which lead to some really tense moments). Although the movie begins to become predictable as it moves closer to the climax, director Yoon Sung-Hyun’s ability to create tense scences, which are ample in the movie, keeps the eyes glued to the screen. Even when you know how a scene will play out, you want to watch it for the sheer craft on display, supported by really good cinematography and sharp editing, which help bring out the director’s vision of this bleak world the protagonists must escape for a better future. This little crime thriller scores big over Netflix’s bigger release Extraction.

Ready Or Not (2019) — Review

This is a spoiler-free review.

READY OR NOT

Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillet
Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny
Screenplay: Guy Busick, R. Christopher Murphy

After Hobbs and Shaw (2019) confirmed that even spin-offs of mega franchises are not allowed to venture outside the tradition of upholding the sanctity of friendship and familial bonds — given that studio franchises themselves are more or less representative of the traditional family (the MCU comes to mind, obviously) — we may have to look elsewhere to seek stories in which suffocating family traditions and structures are dismantled while taking a jab at the vices of capitalism. A hard-to-find combination, you say. Well, you are in luck as Ready Or Not does exactly that.

The Le Domas family has built its fortune selling card games (and eventually bloated into a sports giant that owns four professional teams), thanks to a mysterious benefactor called Mr. Le Bail, who had bailed one of the ancestors of the family out of hardship. Hence, to acknowledge the family’s good fortune and honor Mr. Le Bail, the Le Domas had started the tradition of making the in-coming bride or groom play a random game, as a rite of passage to becoming one with the family, on the night of their marriage when they would rather be playing games that do not require more than two participants, usually.

Grace (Samara Weaving) and Alex (Mark O’Brien), the estranged scion of the Le Domas, are to be married. A girl who has grown up in foster homes, Grace is at once excited and nervous at the prospect of finally being part of a family. But she fears her new family might dislike her for the lack of “enough blue blood” in her. Her fear comes true at midnight when she picks up a card that reads hide and seek, a seemingly harmless game at first, but which to Grace’s horror turns from a minor quirk of her in-laws to something sadistic and diabolical.

Although Grace is the protagonist, who has to survive this night of unhinged violence, the writers of the movie assign her an additional purpose: her character is used as a device to introduce the audience to and explore the world of the Le Domas, for the movie is as much about Grace’s fight for survival as it is about the dysfunctional family that the Le Domases are.

The script manages to strike the right balance between the protagonist (who grows from a girl who lets out a nervous giggle early on at words of encouragement from her mother-in-law to a survivor who despite being shot, stabbed, strangled does everything she can to cling to dear life and kicks some ass along the way) and the Le Domases who despite being a bunch of murderous caricatures of the privileged class nevertheless, on quite a few occasions, let a spark of pathos flit across their eyes. While this trace of pathos is prominent in Alex’s mother (Andie MacDowell) and profound in its absence in Alex’s aunt (Nicky Guadagni), none of it is enough to redeem them, except Alex’s elder brother (Adam Brody), who is torn between family traditions and doing the right thing. His is the most fleshed-out character in the movie, or at least, one that has the most realized character arc.

The movie may at times feel like it could have done better with sharper dialogues or some visual wit, but the gags (relying mostly on violent acts and the characters’ reaction to it) keep coming and the audience keeps chuckling and gasping, often in succession.

Where Ready Or Not really scores is its tight script, great performances (Samara Weaving captures her characters manifold emotions with authority, giving us a wholesome character), even pacing and assured direction which shows in the handling of multiple layers of storytelling and social commentary. My favorite of which is how the directors have managed to marry capitalism with family traditions, with the members of the family existing safe and secure as in a conglomerate as long as they are willing to give up their freedom and guarding the family against outsiders with traditions that are at once patriarchal, pompous, irrelevant and designed (even in its randomness) to keep out the ones who could be a threat to the company, someone who would not sell their soul easily.

Please let me know your thoughts on Ready Or Not in the comments below.

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