Extreme Job may already be on your radar thanks to its record-shattering South Korean debut, but if it isn’t, you’re going to want to make this Korean action comedy a priority as soon as possible.
The 2019 mega-hit currently sits as the highest-grossing and second-highest-watched film in Korean box office history, and Kevin Hart already has an English-language remake in the works, but aside from an extremely limited theatrical US theatrical release, most North American audiences haven’t had the chance to indulge in the first-rate action comedy’s eccentric hilarity and ass-kicking action. Fortunately, Extreme Job just screened at the Fantasia Film Festival, where I walked in not knowing what to expect and walked out of one of my favorite theatrical experiences of the year.
Ryu Seung-ryong (recently seen in Netflix’s zombie hit Kingdom) stars as Captain Ko, the veteran leader of a bumbling narcotics squad that just can’t seem to get the job done (played by Lee Hanee, Jin Sun-kyu, Lee Dong-hwi, and Gong Myoung, all excellent.) The film begins with their latest bungled bust, the sloppy takedown of a no-name middleman that earns them nothing but more trouble. With the threat of being disbanded looming large, the rag-tag bunch makes a last-ditch effort at the big arrest that will save their career — bringing down the biggest crime lord in town.
It’s a make-or-break mission for their law enforcement careers, especially for Captain Ko, and the unit goes all in, buying a local chicken restaurant across the street from their target for surveillance. But when their new chicken recipe turns the formerly failing restaurant into a thriving success and premier foodie destination (despite their best efforts to sabotage the business,) the gang gets a little too committed to the bit, losing sight of the real job in favor of serving the finest fried chicken in town.
Lee Byong-heon (What a Man Wants) directs the action comedy with a well-tuned balance of tone, leaning into to slapstick antics and impeccable comedic timing when called for — the editing is precision work here and Lee makes some bold usage of split screens that works better than it has any right to. And he equally delivers on the action, especially in the film’s joyous final act, when all the threads weave together in one big thrilling action spectacle that finally shows us how these clowns got so far in police work in the first place. For their part, the ensemble handles the dual demands equally well, endowing their characters with endearing idiosyncracies and making it impossible not to invest in their relationships.
It’s easy to see how Extreme Job immediately got scooped up for an English-language remake, and not just because it’s a box office smash. The plot is inherently funny and rich with opportunity for comedic and action bits — even the score delivers the laughs, peppering chicken clucks and squawks in the heat of action. But the Korean original doesn’t just hit those beats with giddy verve, it has a unique and easy charm thanks to its killer ensemble of goofballs and a strong dose of good old-fashioned heart. You genuinely root for this big batch of goobers, both as officers and restauranteurs, and the film’s endless cast chemistry keeps you cheering them along the whole way through.
With very few lagging moments, Extreme Job hits all the right notes, cooking up a feel-good romp that makes the near-two-hour runtime fly by in a gleeful parade of one hilarious sequence after the next. It’s pretty rare for a film to make me laugh as hard and as often as Extreme Job did, let alone keep the crowded audience in stitches. It’s one of those special pop films that has all the right ingredients and reminds you how rewarding that communal comedy experience can be.
A refreshing spin on the whacky cop comedy, Extreme Job leaves behind the most of the stale cop comedy tropes. There’s no ham-fisted good-cop/bad-cop interrogations, no machismo rivalry or office pranks. This isn’t an odd-couple buddy cop comedy, it’s an odd-bunch family comedy, and it’s all the more joyful and refreshing for it. Original, endlessly amusing, and ultimately gratifying, Extreme Job is a contender for feel-good movie of the year; good times from start to finish, with the added bonus of some bonafide food porn.
Extreme Job screened as an official selection at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.