As part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019.
Film festivals are often stuffed full of ponderous indie dramas calculated to make the audience stroke their chins until they draw blood. Thank goodness then for a fattening and unhealthy portion of honest-to-goodness stupidity from South Korea. Extreme Job is a slapstick police comedy that’s now the country’s second most successful film of all time, coining in US$120m in Worldwide receipts.
Captain Ko (Ryu Seong-ryong) ins in charge of a hapless team of narcotics officers and is tired of seeing his peers in other departments promoted above him. When tasked with staking out the hideout of drugs kingpin Shin Ha-kyun he buys the failing chicken restaurant opposite in a moment of madness. When one of his team stumbles on a winning formula, the focus on “Suwon Rib Marinade Chicken” begins to overshadow the team’s commitment to bringing down their target.
Extreme Job opens with a glorious slapstick set-piece of ineptitude and physical comedy that brings to mind the opening scene of Naked Gun. A low-level dealer is brought low by good fortune and his own poor choices rather than the combined efforts of Ko and co. It’s a brilliant beginning and a deft introduction to each of the team. It’s so good in fact that it proves a bit of a millstone and there’s nothing quite lives up to it. The standard does remain admirably high for the most part. The story’s bare bones are fleshed out by the endearing characters, a bickering bunch of outcasts and misfits that have forged their own surrogate family in the crucible of their individual isolation.
When the team begin to make the restaurant a success they find themselves buckling under an insatiable demand for the product and pestered by local TV personalities, which threatens their anonymity. Even worse, the demand forces the chain to expand and the very cartel they’re trying to infiltrate buys in to the business as a front to proliferate their wares further. In this sense Extreme Job is a sneaky satire on the way a good thing can be exploited and bastardised by unchecked capitalism.
It’s during this part of the story that the film threatens to lose its way a little and the near two-hour run time begins to bite. It adds around twenty minutes that aren’t really necessary. You can see why Lee felt the urge to beef up his high-concept, but it adds little. It is otherwise a solidly funny and charming comedy that feels like a less black-hearted relative to the Mads Mikkelsen-starring Danish comedy The Green Butchers which also had a commentary on consumerism at its core.
The motley brigade finally get the chance to show their worth Super Troopers-style. When it turns out that each of them is actually a spectacular fighter (Ko himself can take a prodigious amount of punishment, which has earned him the nickname ‘The Zombie’), it does however slightly undercut the running joke of the gang’s ineptitude. Nevertheless, Extreme Job will be required viewing for fans of Korean cinema and devotees of good old-fashioned broad comedy. Whether we’ll come to view Lee Byeong-heon with the same prestige as Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho remains to be seen, but his prospects look promising.
UK Premiere screenings at Odeon Edinburgh Tue 25 and Thu 27 Jun 2019