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Film Review: Extreme Job

25 November 19 words: Jamie Morris

Shown at Broadway as part of the London Korean Film Festival tour, Extreme Job proves why it deserves its newfound spot as South Korea’s highest-grossing blockbuster…

Director: Byeong-heon Lee

Starring: Myeong Gong, Lee Hanee, Jun-seok Heo

Running time: 111 mins

Numerous South Korean films have earned cult classic status over the past couple of decades, with gritty thrillers and grim horrors being among the most popular to find their way on screens in the West. This year, however, the film breaking box-office records in Korea is far more light-hearted than audiences in the UK might expect - rather than an epic tale of revenge or a nail-biting drama, Extreme Job follows a ragtag crew of cops running a fried chicken joint.

Director Lee Byeong-heon’s third feature film feels just like a feature-length episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It kicks off with an arrest gone awry as Chief Go (Ryu Seung-ryong) and his crew of detectives spectacularly fail to pull off Hollywood-style stunts, only apprehending the perp after causing a huge pile-up that their target happens to get caught up in. But when they get a tip-off that meth kingpin Mubae (Shin Ha-kyun) is back in town, squad newbie Jae-hoon (Gong Myung) gets the idea to take over a failing chicken shop across the road from the drug pusher’s hideout, going undercover like a reverse Breaking Bad.

Extreme Job is intensely funny in a way that surpasses cultural borders, carrying the audience through an outlandish story with nigh-relentless energy and terrifically-delivered comedy. The secret recipe behind its humour is authenticity - whenever the film borrows from another genre for a scene, the actors give it their all in such a way that could make those moments genuinely thrilling or moving in a different context, but utterly side-splitting as part of this story.

The action sequences in particular are a brilliant example of this - excellently choreographed, masterfully shot and often outright brutal without deviating from the slapstick nature of the rest of the film. As with all comedies, Extreme Job has its fair share of recycled gags and predictable punchlines, but the vast majority of content is fresh and consistently serves up back-to-back belly laughs.

Extreme Job is yet another superb addition to the growing Korean New Wave canon and a cluckin’ good comedy flick in general

At its core, the cast is your archetypal misfit cop squad, but has been spiced up with a bunch of amusing quirks that bring out the actor’s strengths. Much of the runtime is devoted to exploring the Chief’s arc as he’s the only one whose home life we see, but Ryu’s ability as an actor is definitely strong enough to lead the cast (and he shows off an especially amusing skill towards the end). Fortunately, the rest of the team each get more than enough time on-screen for them all to leave an impact, such as the recklessly brash Jang (Lee Hanee) and resolute yet ever-exasperated Young-ho (Lee Dong-hwi).

Without a shred of doubt, the stand-out star of Extreme Job is Ma, the wiry, eccentric wildcard of the squad who finds himself tasked as head chef when his latent mastery of a deep-fat fryer is discovered. Actor Jin Seon-kyu, known for playing a hard-faced gangster in 2017’s The Outlaws, plays completely against type as he gives a highly-animated Chaplin-esque performance.

Throughout the film, there’s an underlying question beneath these shenanigans: what is the main reason we pursue a career? Is it just a means of making money and getting by, or is it a path to self-fulfillment? Still, as a light-hearted movie, these themes are never explored that deeply - rather than trying to be anything profound, the film’s main objective is to make you laugh.

It does lose its momentum a little bit as the set pieces are rearranged in preparation for the hilarious final act, but when the credits roll you feel thoroughly satisfied with the delicious combo of fantastic performances, witty humour and crazy story, all done justice by the clear passion Lee Byeong-heon has for comedy and cinema as a whole. Extreme Job is yet another superb addition to the growing Korean New Wave canon and a cluckin’ good comedy flick in general.

Did you know? After its release, Extreme Job became South Korea's highest-grossing blockbuster of all time

Extreme Job screened at Broadway Cinema as part of the London Korean Film Festival tour 

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