LKFF 2019 - Extreme Job Review
The highest-grossing film of all time in South Korea (in March it reached $122m, beating the previous record holder Roaring Currents, which topped at $120.5m), Extreme Job is an irresistible South Korean action comedy that has all the right elements to reach audiences around the world, and not only because it prominently features fried chicken!
An incompetent and dysfunctional five-person police team takes over a run-down chicken shop in order to observe and infiltrate a drug syndicate's headquarters across the road. When their special chicken recipe becomes a massive hit with the public, it is a case of stakeout meets takeout, as cooking and crime-busting get ever more confused.
It is well-known that everybody wants to root for the underdog. On the basis of this undeniable psychological concept and a worn to the bone genre (the stakeout film), writer-director Lee Byeong-heon (Twenty) cleverly renews the genre by injecting simple, yet exceptionally efficient ingredients (food, mismatched characters, incessant rhythm, etc.), which win the audience in less time that is needed to fry chicken. Indeed, after a slightly pushy cliché introduction, Extreme Job adopts an extraordinarily constant cruising speed maintaining a level of interest high enough to take the audience throughout three quarters of the film’s two hour duration without even looking at the clock for a single second.
Thanks to cleverly, yet not forced, situations, and a bunch of extremely likeable actors, led by Ryu Seung-ryong (Yeon Sang-ho’s underestimated follow-up to his acclaimed Train to Busan: Psychokinesis) and Ha-kyun Shin (the seminal Save the Green Planet!), the writer-director sets up a genuine empathy that develops for this group of underdogs, not only in their quest to put drug lord Lee Moo-bae behind bars but also, incidentally, to achieve a long awaited, for some, life fulfilment with their ground-breaking recipe.
Although the climax provides instant pleasure, which will most certainly put a grin on every member of the audience’s face, it might, a posteriori, leave some spectators feeling disappointed, or even worst cheated due to the fairly cunning way Lee Byeong-heon treats his story. Furthermore, even if Extreme Job is, as previously mentioned, a genuine model of efficient filmmaking both in terms of writing and direction, the writer-director rests too much on his laurels during the climax and allows it to spread over a much too long period threatening to ruin his impressive efforts.
Luckily for him, he had already won the audience at the first bite of fried chicken and this slight aftertaste doesn’t alter in any way the exhilarating feeling of satisfaction, and fulfilment, that Extreme Job provides long after its closing shot.