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How do you follow a film boasting the amazing title “Invasion of Alien Bikini”? For Korean indie writer director Oh Young Doo, who also worked on the fantastic “The Neighbor Zombie”, the answer is to keep things crazy, offering up “Young Gun in the Time”, in which a Hawaiian shirt wearing private eye gets caught up in a mind-bending mystery involving time travel. A similarly low budget marvel, the film sees Oh working again with “Bikini” stars Hong Young Guen and Ha Eun Jung, joined this time by actress Choi Song Hyun (“Midnight F.M.”), and proved another audience favourite on the international festival circuit.
Hong Young Guen plays the titular Young Gun, a down on his luck private detective, heavily in debt to his ruthless boss (Ha Eun Jung) and forced to take on undignified cases to make money. Things change when a young woman called Song Hyun (Choi Song Hyun) turns up in his office, claiming to be a scientist and trying to persuade him to carry out an all-important hit for cash. Being a moral man, he turns it down, though follows her out of the office, only to see her being grabbed and killed on the street. Feeling guilty about her death, he starts investigating, and is understandably surprised when he comes across Song Hyun, alive and well, claiming to have travelled back in time from three days in the future.
Though budget wise “Young Gun in the Time” is a step up from the US$5000 of “Invasion of Alien Bikini”, at around US$30,000 it’s still an astonishingly low-cost film, especially considering just how professional it looks and how much Oh Young Doo manages to pack in. Partly financed by the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, the film certainly puts many blockbuster studio outings to shame, and sees Oh continuing to prove himself one of Korea’s most exciting rising directors. In terms of scale and setup, the film is bigger and better than “Bikini”, with a variety of locations this time around, and it benefits from a number of professional looking and well-executed action scenes, some of which are surprisingly violent and which more than equal those of fancier productions. The budget also stretched to some decent special effects, and this allows Oh to make more of his considerable imagination, with some very creative set pieces and fun use of the time travel gimmick also lifting the film up a level.
What comes across the most though is Oh’s eccentric and wonderfully enthusiastic attention to detail, and it’s this which should guarantee the film an appreciative cult audience. The film is filled with strange, offbeat and humorous touches, from Young Gun’s prosthetic hand (which doubles neatly as a weapon dock) through to his taste in shirts, and this helps give it a real, and very likeable, sense of character. Oh seamlessly mixes science fiction, action, comedy and neo-noir, and somehow manages to make the film still feel coherent, and despite all its daftness and far-out plot, it somehow comes together in a semi-rational manner which fits perfectly. Though the pacing is a little off in places, there aren’t too many dips, and it makes for impressively energetic viewing for most of its hour and a half running time.
The film’s other real strength is the fact that Oh and his cast are clearly very comfortable with each other, making for a laid back and congenial air and helping to bring the characters to idiosyncratic life. Hong Young Guen is charismatic in the lead, and Young Gun is an appealing protagonist, quirky and good-natured, making his odd quest engaging and fun to follow – even if his detective work at times seems to revolve around nothing more than him poking around in alleyways. Choi Song Hyun is also very agreeable, though, as in “Bikini”, it’s Ha Eun Jung who frequently steals the show, on fine form as Young Gun’s tough and devious boss, oozing sleazy sex appeal and seeming to be having a great time hamming things up.
There’s really not much wrong with “Young Gun in the Time”, and cult film fans looking for lively and unconventional entertainment won’t be disappointed. It’s surely about time that Oh Young Doo gets the recognition he deserves, as on the evidence here, he’s clearly fast becoming one of Korea’s most talented directors.
Young-doo Oh (director) / Young-doo Oh (screenplay)
CAST: Young-geun Hong … Young Gun
Song-hyeon Choi … Song-hyeon
Eun-Jung Ha … Ha Sa-jang
Yong-geun Bae … Tik Taek-to