Hitman: Agent Jun (PG13)
Starring Kwon Sang-Woo, Jeoung Jun-Ho, Hwang Woo Seul-Hye, lee Yi-Kying
Directed by Choi Won-Sub
Here's a pertinent question. Didn’t a South Korean film just win four Oscars?
Okay, maybe it's a bit unfair to compare Hitman: Agent Jun with Parasite because they are different genres. After all, the latter is a clever social satire; this one is a mindless action comedy.
But watching Hitman: Agent Jun in this era is like being caught in a time warp. If it had come out, say, five, maybe 10 years ago, we'd probably be laughing our butts off. But this is 2020, the age of Parasite, and, well, it just seems so dated and over.
I mean, even if it's necessary to come up with one more crazy gimmick to turn folks into something totally unexpected — in this case, a seemingly normal dude into a highly-skilled kickass super agent (again!) — the story needs to be more inventive and imaginative than this.
Like the one which transformed a group of bungling stakeout cops into a bunch of accidental takeout entrepreneurs running the best chicken restaurant in last year's comical hit, Extreme Job. Now, that was good.
Hitman: Agent Jun here clearly banks on one thing — the appeal of main man, Kwon Sang-Woo. We know him from way back in Volcano High and My Tutor Friend. He's always likeable and here, he plays another likeable fella who isn't who he seems to be.
Kim Bong Jun (Kwon) is a struggling webtoon comic artist who keeps getting the worst comments and feedback online. People thinks he's awful. His publisher is close to dumping him; his long-suffering alcoholic wife, Mina (Hwang Woo Seul-Hye), needs to work to exasperation to cover their debts and even his rapper-wannabe teenage daughter, Ga Young (Lee Ji Won), can see that Daddy's going nowhere because he's simply very lousy when it comes to making up fictional cartoony stories.
“Draw out your story. Be real,” she gives her pitiful pop a wise and honest tip.
Thing is, this dude's own true story takes some beating because a lot of actual beating, shooting and killing is involved. Fifteen years ago, under a different name, he's the best of the best —Agent Jun, the awesome “ace in Shield Team” — in a top-secret counter-terrorism agency, the NIS (National Intelligence Service). Man, this guy used to be so ridiculously cool back then he took out enemies without any sweat or crease on his forehead just like Will Smith in his recent fully cartoonish flick, Spies In Disguise.
You know it's top secret because everybody looks glum, humourless and suited up like Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black. Plus the tough head trainer, Chief Cheon (Jung Jun Ho from Operation Chromite), specially selected Jun as an orphaned kid years back for some kind of super-shady from-nobody-to-assassin training programme like Red Sparrow or Black Widow. “Bring honour to your country,” the chief tells his fave recruit, despite the boy insisting that he just want to dabble in cartoons. Kinda of like James Bond wishing to be Stan Lee.
Anyway, Jun fakes his own death on a mission, his aggrieved fellow agents hold a funeral using a comic drawing of him, and, hey, years later, still looking exactly the same, he's fulfilling his dream as a struggling, very boring cartoonist hounded by everybody for basically sucking at his job.
So, in a drunken stupor of soppy self-pity, he draws out his hitherto hidden killer life like Picasso on hyperdrive. He uses real names of real people, compromises the entire covert organisation he belonged to, and exposes both good guys and bad. Including a vengeful wacko terrorist whose eye he'd previously poked into pulp. Don't worry. The gore is depicted in comic-book form here.
The drawings are meant to privately soothe his own abject misery. Problem is, his clueless missus puts them all on the internet while he's sleeping and suddenly the whole thing becomes an exciting viral sensation that grows bigger and bigger. Jun, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, puts out more and more of his thrilling exploits as his manga-style webtoon gains more eyeballs than a mega-packed morgue.
Of course, you know where all this is heading — everybody, both friend and foe, comes after him. His former agent mates want to haul him in while the one-eyed baddie and his gang aim to basically kill him. And the whole thing progresses to a comical to-and-fro with his friend and mentor, Chief Cheon, somehow becoming his hostage while he tries to free his wife who's being held captive by the nasties.
To be fair, this flick does what Korean comedies do inherently well. The funniest bits are the little things. Jun's, er, highly spirited wife turns to the free bottles of booze right at the place she's held in. And Chief Cheon's look of horror when he finds out that his precious secret identity as a spy is now instantly known to anyone who follows the webtoon.
Alas, such moments are few, and when Hitman: Agent Jun runs out of ideas and resorts to a shoot-'em-slug-'em mass brawl, it just regresses to predictability. Luckily, Kwon himself is a winsome draw, no pun intended. Especially when he asks himself — “Should I track their IPs and kill them?” — after his accidental hit cartoon gets inundated with unwanted fans.
But for his own career advancement, though, to get out of mundaneness, I just need to say this.
Mr Kwon, please contact Mr Bong — no, not James Bong or James Bond — but Parasite’s Bong Joon Ho very soon. (**1/2)
Photo: Golden Village