Last year's Yubari Grand Prix winner - and the only non-Japanese filmmaker to win the award - South Korean director Oh Young Doo returns to the wintry city with his follow-up to Invasion Of Alien Bikini, the time-travel detective thriller Young Gun In The Time. Financed in part by the festival's 2 million yen (US$25,000) prize money, Oh retains the services of leading man Hong Young Geun, but this time in the role of down-on-his-luck private detective Young Gun, whose money woes force him into taking any assignment offered, even if that means helping little old ladies locate their lost pets. His secretary (the Alien Bikini herself, Ha Eun Jung) is the one calling all the shots, until a beautiful young scientist (Choi Song Hyun) walks into his office and asks him to track down a distinctive wristwatch and kill its owner.
While Young Gun may be desperate, he's not about to commit a major crime, but is intrigued enough to follow the mysterious woman out into the street only to look on helplessly as she is abducted and then promptly killed right before his eyes. Traumatised, Young Gun sets out to investigate, only for his enquiries to lead him to the recent murder of a prominent scientist and his beautiful, and now very much alive, assistant Song Hyun (Choi). Before long he finds himself searching for a mysterious antique that may or may not be a mystical time-travelling device, and on a collision course with a deadly opponent known only as Tic-Tac-Toe.
If what Oh managed to achieve in Invasion Of Alien Bikini with a reported budget of less than US$5000 wasn't impressive enough, what he has accomplished with the much larger - though still comparatively microscopic - sum of US$30,000 is nothing short of staggering. Oh takes the action sequences he had already mastered in his previous film and builds on them with consummate skill to create chases, fist fights and car crashes that would feel right at home in a considerably more costly production. Wisely, he also moves the drama around the city, rather than sticking to a single interior location, and introduces a number of dynamic though no less eccentric characters throughout the film.
Young Gun is a more likable hero than Hong Yeung Geun's social outcast in Invasion Of Alien Bikini. With his slight, unimposing figure and bizarrely fetching penchant for Hawaiian shirts worn in conjunction with trilby and tie, he is a far cry from the traditional gumshoe of 1940s noir, or even the Japanese detective films to which Young Gun In The Time also owes a debt. Hong may lack the chiselled good looks of many Korean leading men, but it is perhaps because of this that the audience warms to him. Hong has improved a long way from his already-strong performance in last year's Yubari winner, and he deserves to be vying for the very best comedic roles in the industry on the basis of his performance here.
Our hero's single most distinguishing feature, however, beyond his stance, demeanour and choice of attire, is that he is missing his left hand. Instead he wears a robotic prosthetic fashioned by a sex shop proprietor vaguely reminiscent of the eye specialist from Blade Runner. We never learn exactly what happened to Young Gun's hand, though it is suggested that it was his own foolishness or overexuberance that led to its accidental amputation. Regardless, it repeatedly makes for a great comic resource and even helps him out of a few scrapes along the way.
The rest of the cast is equally bizarre. Choi Song Hyun's heroine may be beautiful and intelligent, but has an oddball obsessive nature that often sees her veer closer to crackpot conspiracy theorist than sexy scientist. Ha Eun Jung, on the other hand, is tough as nails as the woman pulling Young Gun's strings and right at home in the lurid flurescence of Oh's neo-noir landscape. The surrounding characters, meanwhile, appear to have fallen from the pages of a disappeared Coen Brothers science fiction script, and are a regular source of amusement throughout.
All that said, Young Gun In The Time is not without its flaws. The film does take a little while to find it footing and a pace with which Oh and his audience are comfortable. The film introduces a number of seemingly unconnected characters in wildly differing scenarios, and it takes perhaps 15-20 minutes before we feel the film's true rhythm - not that its assorted pieces are difficult to enjoy on their own. Once our hero grasps the full extent of the siutation, however, everything falls into place nicely and Oh whisks his audience along at a brisk and energetic pace for the remainder of the film.
If I was pushed to make further criticisms, and I'm reluctant to when reviewing a low budget film that feels as accomplished and entertaining as Young Gun In The Time almost always does, it would be that there are a couple of moments when the violence oversteps the otherwise jolly and comedic tone of the rest of the film. That said, the violence is never sensationalised and always employed with the intention to shock. Elsewhere, however, the film is slick and confidently executed in a manner that repeatedly defies its financial restrictions.
There can be no denying at this stage that Oh Young Doo is a filmmaker of exceptional invention, talent and creativity who is already making his mark on Asia's indie film circuit. At this juncture the sky is the limit for what he will achieve in the years to come, and the mind boggles at what he could do with the kind of budget awarded the likes of Kim Ji Woon or Bong Joon Ho. The fact that Oh is already working in the science fiction genre and has keenly expressed his intentions to turn Young Gun into a series of time travelling adventures has me giddy with anticipation.
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