Quick is frequently thrilling stuff, genuinely, slyly funny and even surprisingly clever here and there, but Jo Beom-Gu seems far too self-conscious he's making a daft popcorn feature for his film to really impress, with too many lapses into self-conscious wackiness and not enough opportunity for the viewer to get invested in what's happening. Quick is definitely way ahead of much of the competition, but it could have finished even further out in front.
Quick stars Lee Min Ki as Ki-Soo, a biker who's quit running wild to work as a motorcycle courier, flouting speed limits across the country to deliver his cargo on time. First he's handed a seemingly innocuous package that demolishes a downtown office block moments after he's dropped it off. Then moments after being reunited with Ah-Rom (Kang Hye Won), an ex-girlfriend from his days as a bad boy, a mysterious caller informs Ki-Soo there's a bomb in his crash helmet.
Problem is, Ah-Rom's just put the helmet on; so the caller promises he'll detonate the bomb unless Ki-Soo continues to drop further explosive packages off across the city. Off go the terrified couple, leaving a trail of destruction behind them while they try to work out who could be doing this and why - with the police left to wonder what the hell's going on.
Quick certainly has a pedigree. Produced by Yoon Je Kyun - who was also behind tsunami blockbuster Haeundae, which may set off warning bells for some - while there's nothing here as wildly over the top as a giant wave laying waste to everything in its path there's enough pyrotechnics, impossible stunts and quick-fire bickering from the leads to make for quite a ride. The trouble is, while Jo plainly wants to get the audience to identify with Ki-Soo and his girl, he doesn't seem to be able to make up his mind what the best way to do this would be.
Witness the opening scene, a flashback that's supposed to set up the leads' character arc, as well as several of the supporting cast. Yet it's played for laughs, from the way Ah-Rom and Ki-Soo's relationship crashes and burns, to the bumbling detective who's always left one step behind the real action, right up to the horrendous accident that prompts Ki-Soo to take up a slightly more legitimate career.
Which brings us back to the main problem - no matter how much you suspend your disbelief it still sets off all kinds of mental flags when a film like Quick treats the consequences of its ridiculous showdowns with this much cavalier disdain. Okay, there probably aren't that many people who expect a popcorn action flick to be realistic as such, but you can easily convince yourself people are dying when Michael Bay levels another American landmark.
It's hard not to feel Quick isn't even taking things that seriously when you plainly see people walk away with nothing more than a few scratches from the kind of high-speed collision that would have their face smeared along the tarmac in real life. No matter how impressive the choreography, every time something else blows up and no-one gets visibly hurt (save perhaps the odd bad guy who clearly deserved it) the temptation is to facepalm in despair, and the repeated mugging to camera doesn't help much.
Which is a shame, because once the villain's mad scheme gets under way things do start to improve. Despite the misguided slapstick, Wacky Races attitude to danger and over-reliance on comic relief, even the weaker stunts are still pleasingly inventive. Watching Ki-Soo fling his mount over, under and through collapsing buildings as a parade of cop cars trail behind him like a Blues Brothers tribute band is a lot of fun despite the obvious CG.
The lack of realism is frustrating, yes, but it also lends a cartoon energy to a lot of the action, from the scale and scope of the devastation to how gracefully the roaming camera whips around the set pieces. By the time we're into the home stretch, with Ki-Soo facing off against the bomber on a speeding express train, Jo's managed to up the tension quite some way, cutting back and forth between multiple viewpoints for the final fight and briefly coming off like a Korean Fred Cavayé (Point Blank, For Her).
It's also worth noting that despite the dumb comic interludes, the character development is surprisingly engaging stuff overall. Quick is still popcorn fluff for the most part - it never works itself up to fever pitch the way Point Blank does. But Ki-Soo and Ah-Rom are likeable, for all they're shrill. Lee Min Ki and Kang Hye Won are both different enough from conventional supermodel K-stars to hold your attention (he, rangy and thin, she more like an actual human being than a Barbie doll).
And they manage to sell the sense of desperation pretty well, for all the tone skips back and forth. You may not believe they're going to die, but you can buy that they believe they will. When it stops mugging, Quick can be smart, witty, even genuinely emotional - the Big Reveal in particular makes you wish Jo and Yoon had pushed this aspect of the story much, much further.
Disappointing, then, but still solid, unpretentious fun that sneaks in the odd moment of actual intelligence, Quick could have been much better than it is but what we get is more than throwaway multiplex fodder all the same. There's no message or bold statement, but for all the superfluous pratfalls, bug-eyed double-takes and physically impossible stunts this is still a movie where the director understands the merits of pacing and dynamics, the impact of a well-placed quiet joke before the next explosion and a cast worth caring about.
Quick is way too obviously product to be great, and it's very unlikely to win over viewers who don't like blockbuster film-making, full stop - but for anyone with a taste for slick, big-budget action with a dash of real invention, this is a nifty two hours of breakneck escapism that comes definitely recommended.
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