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Thursday, August 30, 2012

PiFan 2012: Young Gun in the Time (영건 탐정 사무소, Yeong-geon Tam-jeong Sa-moo-so) 2012


Part of MKC's coverage of the 16th Puchon International Film Festival.

Aside from technical proficiency, I’m always amazed at Korean filmmakers’ knack for thrift. Their films, compared to Hollywood's output, barely cost a dime. A $10 million dollar budget is enough to put out a film like The Host or The Thieves, whereas similar productions in the States will go for ten times more. The cost of living is cheaper and there are other mitigating factors but the level of these productions’ sophistication is nonetheless impressive.

A look down the ladder at the low-budget fare produced in the country inspires even more awe. The beautiful and languid Bedevilled cost a measly $70,000 and many other films around that budget range feature similarly accomplished production values. Oh Young-doo 2011’s feature Invasion of Alien Bikini made quite a splash on the festival circuit and part of it was because it reputedly cost only $5,000, all of it stretched to a remarkable degree. Though at the end of the day that was still identifiable as an ultra low-budget production. His new film cost $50,000 but from an aesthetic standpoint it puts many commercial features to shame.


His skill as a filmmaker and his experience within the industry, not to mention that of his many friends that were involved in the production, account for much of the film’s technical astuteness. More important though, in my opinion, is Oh’s sheer verve as a cineaste. The energy he brings to Young Gun emboldens it and results in a blistering and kinetic b-movie, so assured in its execution that it takes on the aura of a much more significant production.

A low rent private detective called Young Gun tracks down beetles for little old ladies as he tries to pay down a debt for a beautiful loan shark, who poses as his secretary. One day a woman steps into his office with a crazy story and a request for him to kill a man. He turns her down but, intrigued, he follows her out of his building and is soon caught up in an intricate web of mystery, intrigue, murder and time machines.


Young Gun in the Time features a panoply of b-movie elements, not to mention a wide array of visual tricks which mask the film’s low budget, but never for a moment does it feel cheap: Oh does not involve all these hallmarks of cult cinema ironically. His film is always fun but he never makes fun of the medium, he takes his job as a filmmaker seriously. This results in a surprisingly effective and involving narrative and by the time it reaches its emotionally-charged and complex (if not wholly original) finale, we have become so invested in the story and its colorful characters that it packs the kind of punch I would never have expected from such a film.

Hong Yong-geun, who was also the star of Invasion of Alien Bikini, plays the oddball sleuth and decked out with his fedora and Hawaiian shirts, he is certainly very distinctive. The role has its demands as it requires him to slide between goofy humor, pathos, romance and more and he pulls off the feat well. As for the rest of the cast, I was impressed by how, just like the director, they seem to be enjoying themselves while still taking their job seriously.


While not a masterpiece, Oh’s film is the kind of work that gets me excited about cinema, particularly when imagining where it could go next and who might lead it there. Perhaps I’ve been a little too fixated on the film’s budget and its technical merits but only because I’m excited about what Oh might be able to achieve when he makes his commercial debut, which is already in the works. I think he’s a talent who is on the up and up and may be a bright light for future Korean filmmaking.

Young Gun in the Time is a fun and slick neo-sci-fi noir from a filmmaker who clearly adores genre cinema. The references to other works are apparent but make no mistake, this is its own beast: a Korean b-movie that knows how to please. Still though, it’s a small film that may not benefit from wide exposure, but if you do have a chance to see it, you won’t regret it.

Young Gun in the Time was released today (August 30) in Korea.

★★★★☆

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Interview with Young Gun in the Time's Oh Young-doo
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