Raymond Chandler meets “Back to the Future,” with a liberal dose of Seijun Suzuki tossed into the mix, in “Young Gun in the Time,” writer-director Oh Young-doo’s clever and funny time-travel detective story. It impressively makes full use of its shoestring budget ($30,000) with inventiveness, an irreverent sense of fun, and some surprisingly well-choreographed fight scenes.
“Young Gun in the Time” follows a private eye named Young Gun (Hong Young-geun) who at the outset is somewhat down on his luck. The motto of the Young Gun Detective Agency is, “We do our best, even if it is only a small request.” Lately, it seems small requests are all he gets: the pre-credits sequence has Young Gun searching for the beloved stag beetle of an eccentric animal lover. He diligently searches for and finds the animal; afterward, in a typical example of the film’s cheekiness, he punctuates his success with a satisfied thumbs-up to the camera. Notwithstanding his resourcefulness, he must contend with Miss Ha (Ha Eun-jung), a cynical, heart-of-stone landlady/secretary who constantly reminds him of his massive debt to her, threatening him with eviction if he doesn’t get some bigger cases, and fast.
Soon enough, Young Gun stumbles into his biggest case yet. One day, Song-hyeon (Choi Song-hyeon), a mysterious hoodie and sunglass-wearing woman, comes to him with a frantic request to find a watch, and to kill the owner afterward. Young Gun gently explains that they are not in the killing business, while Miss Ha unceremoniously throws her out of the office. But Young Gun, intrigued by the young woman’s strange demeanor – and clearly attracted to her – begins following her. He watches in shock as she is abducted by two men and thrown into a van, which promptly crashes. He runs over to save her, but it is too late: she has been killed by the crash.
Distraught at his failure to save her, Young Gun ignores Miss Ha’s demands to forget it and look for other cases, and with the photo of the watch Song-hyeon gave him, to get to the bottom of what happened to her. But he is in for an even bigger shock when in the course of his investigation, he finds Song-hyeon alive and well at the lab where she works as a scientist specializing in ancient artifacts.
Thereafter, Young Gun is drawn into an intricate, conspiratorial plot involving an ancient time machine and a ruthless assassin named Tik Taek-to [get it?] (Bae Yong-geun) who works for a shadowy cabal seeking to gain control of the time machine, no doubt for nefarious purposes. Young Gun, who at first appears to be an unimposing, somewhat pathetic schlub, a Korean version of Elliott Gould’s Philip Marlowe in “The Long Goodbye,” and whose preferred attire consists of a series of loud Hawaiian shirts, proves to be surprisingly resourceful. He can scrap martial-arts style with even the scariest-looking fellows, and his secret weapon is a mechanical hand that recalls the gadgetry of the James Bond films.
“Young Gun in the Time” is Oh Young-doo’s follow-up to his debut feature “Invasion of Alien Bikini,” which won the grand prize at the 2011 Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival in Japan. “Young Gun” was funded with the prize money he won there, and premiered at this year’s edition of the Yubari Festival. Oh displays an exuberant flair for comic style (leavened with some endearing romantic sweetness), action choreography, and cheeky jokiness (Young Gun’s surveillance expert runs a sex shop on the side). Oh reunited most of his “Alien Bikini” cast, and they fit their outlandish roles as snugly as the glove that covers Young Gun’s mechanical hand. Hong Young-geun may not have the matinee-idol looks of many action heroes, but he has enough charisma and skillfully elicits enough audience sympathy to more than compensate. Ha Eun-jung (the “Alien Bikini” of Oh’s previous feature) makes an indelible impression as the incredibly bitchy, but undeniably sexy, hard-nosed foil to the more empathetic Young Gun. Choi Song-hyeon makes a great addition to Oh’s stock company, and is quite riveting as she essays a rather eccentric character that is a combination accomplished scientist, damsel in distress, and crackpot conspiracy theorist.
“Young Gun in the Time” confirms the arrival of a major talent, and is a textbook example of how it is possible, with a lot of ingenuity and great collaborators, to gain maximum artistic results from minimum financial means.
Meniscus Magazine is a proud sponsor of the 2012 San Diego Asian Film Festival. “Young Gun in the Time” screens on November 2, 10:10pm and November 4, 8:20pm. For tickets and more info, visit the San Diego Asian Film Festival website.