The beginning of a filmmaker’s career is often the most exciting time to watch as their developing abilities are a visibly tangible thing. Talents on display in a first film can mature greatly by the time a sophomore effort sees a release. This year’s Fantastic Fest already has one example of such a feat with the Soska Sisters’ American Mary which, narrative issues aside, is a tremendous leap in quality from their debut (Dead Hooker In a Trunk).
South Korean director Oh Young-doo has accomplished a similar feat with his second film, Young Gun In the Time. And not only is it an improvement over Invasion of Alien Bikini, it’s a pretty great film period.
Young Gun (Hong Young-geun) is a private eye with mounting debt and a lack of clients, and with a secretary (Ha Eun-jung) who doubles as his landlord he’s forced to take any case that comes along. He draws the line at murder though so when a young, cute, hoodie-wearing scientist named Song-hyun (Choi Song-hyeon) appears asking him to find a mysterious watch and kill its owner he refuses on principle. Minutes later he watches helplessly as she’s abducted on the street and killed. Racked with guilt and more than a little bit curious he begins to investigate the case anyway and soon finds himself caught up with a mysterious murderer and a possible time-travel device.
And then he sees Song-hyun walking around perfectly healthy and alive.
Young Gun is a curious creation for a detective with his short stature, wild hair and penchant for Magnum PI shirts, but he’s also an engaging and wonderfully watchable hero. Part of his appeal is found in his surprisingly capable skills that make him a tenacious and formidable foe. His mechanical hand is also an intriguing trait that adds mystery and fun gags to his repertoire. Like Young-doo’s directing skills, Young-geun’s acting has improved noticeably from their first feature collaboration. He makes his character charming in his idiosyncrasies and with his fearlessness at wearing his emotions on his sleeve. He runs a lot in this movie, and oddly, the first comparison to come to mind is of a Korean Tom Cruise.
Eun-jung and Song-hyeun give equally stand out performances for slightly different reasons. The former is pitch perfect as a tough as nails boss motivated by money above all else, and the latter is a pleasing mix of dour scientist and excitable conspiracy nut. Both women light up the screen too, and that’s never a bad thing.
The film’s two biggest assets, and also its biggest surprises, are its sense of humor and action choreography. The film offers up multiple laughs from the dialogue as well as visual gags such as when Young Gun solves a mystery and gives a big, satisfied thumbs up to the camera. And the action is pretty damn impressive for the budget with multiple hand to hand combat scenes and vehicular action as well. The mini-van fight alone is worth the price of admission.
Young Gun In the Time is incredibly fun for such an unassuming indie, and it offers far more entertainment than many movies budgeted a hundred times over. It’s definitely an odd bird, but fans of creativity and personality will want to seek it out soon.
The Upside: Fun mix of action and laughs with shots of sci-fi and heart a well; best fight inside of a moving mini-van ever; Hong Young-geun plays an oddly appealing hero; narrative takes some unexpected turns; Choi Song-hyeon is cute and has a great comedic personality; potential for a wildly entertaining franchise here
The Downside: Takes 15-20 minutes to find its groove; transition between laughs and serious violence may be too jarring for some
On the Side: This film’s $30,000 budget was mostly financed by prize money won by Oh Young-doo’s first film