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Fantasia 2019: Extreme Job, Mystery of the Night

I had a blast with the genuinely crowd-pleasing action-comedy “Extreme Job,” about a bumbling police squad that takes over a chicken shop for a stakeout, but eventually are stuck running the small business. The movie, directed by Lee Byeong-heon, blends extended workplace comedy (in an albeit unexpected setting) and hard-hitting action, and is further proof of the timelessness of the action-comedy.  

The appeal of “Extreme Job” is almost instantaneous, as a quintet of silly cops not too far removed from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” try to bust some criminals in a slapstick-y, sharply edited opening that’s like watching adults play a game of Cops and Drug Dealers. The comedy is especially big in this scene as with many others that follow, and the familiarity of its cartoonish characters doesn't affect its charm, even as the quintet seems to be comprised of cop movie archetypes (Ryu Seung-ryong's grizzled vet Captain Ko; the accidental genius; the rookie; etc.). Silly as they may be, they're seriously dedicated complete the task of catching a notorious meth dealer--and prove themselves against their condescending police peers--and their determination becomes our entertainment. 

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It's all a strong set-up for the script by Se-Young Bae to then displace them, and create comedy from these characters by using an unexpected environment: a dilapidated fried chicken shop, which our heroes operate so they can monitor the the druglord across the street. Just when you think "Extreme Job" will be a movie about an elaborate stakeout, the story fully commits to its new location, and shows the cops dealing with the challenges of running the business in order to keep up the disguise. When one of them accidentally serves a brilliant plate of chicken and creates a word of mouth fanbase, they have to juggle success and an expanding customer base, a different problem that's funny itself when contrasted with their nightly attempts of actual police business.  

"Extreme Job" eventually cooks up its own story about the druglord and his impending run in with justice, though that proves to be the less compelling facet. And oddly enough, the script is so immersed in the chicken shop that it can be more about the travails of running a small business than the pursuit of catching bad guys, sometimes giving "Extreme Job" a slack tension despite the high energy of the comedy. But it all leads to great climax, as "Extreme Job" features a massive brawl where each character is given their time to shine outside the chicken shop, and so too is the slam-bang editing that gives the movie its desired pep. 

My enjoyment with “Extreme Job” was certainly not exclusive: the Fantasia audience received it with one the most affectionate mix of laughter and cheers I’ve heard at the festival this year. And on top of that, the movie has made history in South Korea, becoming the second most viewed film in the country's history. It's no coincidence that Kevin Hart and Universal have already started work on an American remake, one that I hope will be a bit tighter take on this inspired story, but also just as wonderfully silly. 

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On Sunday evening, Fantasia hosted the world premiere of “Mystery of the Night,” the latest from Filipino director Adolfo Borinaga Alix, Jr., and an adaptation of a stage play by Rody Vera. It reminded me a lot of the recent film “Hagazussa,” another type of folk tale that seems to be told in slow motion, and mixes in the meditative with the disturbing. The story is told in a delicate way, mixing its spirits with others—it follows a man who goes into the woods and falls for a naked woman in the woods representing a spirit, forcing himself on her at first, until she accepts and then becomes fixated on him. When he returns home to his real life and abandons, he mortifies the spirit, which then takes the form of a flying beast, who leaves the woods (and her elder spirits) to exact a type of vengeance. 

But before that, you spend a lot of time in the forest, listening to elder spirits and their calls pass through the tress, and then watch them sit patiently. One of the women has eyeballs all over her body, and in the impressive and non-flashy approach "Mystery of the Night" has to special effects, the eyeballs all blink at different times, another part of the movie setting a rhythm akin to sitting among the trees. 

To say that this is one of the slower films at the festival would be an understatement: the pacing of the story didn’t work for some of my fellow attendees, and it may not for others. But I found “Mystery of the Night” worth sticking with for its main monster, an impressive, disturbing creation mix of practical effects, make-up, and dreaded presence. When she arrives for revenge the slow pacing has a creepy effect, her wings slowly whooshing as she tears up different members of the man’s family. Even the violence of this movie becomes meditative in an impressive way, mixing her anger and sadness with the terror of other characters. 

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