Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Fantasia ’19: Extreme Job

Being a small businessman is not so different from being a cop. Both have a tough time making ends meet and the bottom-feeding media is only too happy to score cheap points against either. At least independent proprietors can be their own boss. That is why narcotics team leader Go will be tempted to make it permanent when he goes undercover as a purveyor of fried chicken in Lee Byeong-heon’s Extreme Job, which screens again during the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Go’s team made a real hash of their last case, so if they do not rack up some high-profile collars quickly, they are likely to be disbanded. The five misfit cops decide to follow a rival squad leader’s tip, staking out long-suspected drug kingpin Lee Moo-bae’s new hideout. There is definitely illegal business going on behind closed doors, but the chicken shop they have been using to monitor Lee’s gang is about to go out of business. In the spirit of all or nothing, Go uses his pension fund to buy it out.

Of course, they will have to sell some chicken to keep up appearances. Oddly enough, Det. Ma, the compulsive gambler and general foul-up, happens to have a knack with chicken. In fact, his chicken with rib marinade becomes a foodie sensation. Suddenly, Go and his team are too busy filling orders to do much police work, which frustrates the hard-charging veteran and the idealistic newbie. However, things take a surprise turn when the media starts nosing around.

Extreme Job is one of the relatively rare South Korean comedies that translates quite well for American audiences. Of course, it does not hurt that there is quite a bit of action, including a massive beatdown climax. However, it really works because Lee Byeong-heon and screenwriter Bae Se-young take a clever premise and fully develop it. They do not simply milk a few chuckles out of the prospect of cops distracted by their own chicken-slinging cover. This Macguffin takes on a life of its own.

It is also amusing to see Ryu Seung-ryong, the grizzled star of films like The Target, The War of the Arrows, and The Front Line, playing such a sad-eyed, snake-bit underdog. He still shows off plenty of action chops down the stretch. Although he is more than a bit annoying at first, rubber-faced Jin Seon-kyu also develops some roguish charm as the culinary-skilled Ma.

Thanks to the game cast (Go’s Fab Five), Extreme Job has quite a bit of genial charm. It is easy to see why it broke Korean box office records and has Kevin Hart kicking the tires of a potential American remake. It is just a lot of easy-going fun, somewhat in the spirit of the original Beverly Hills Cop and Stakeout movies. Recommended for fans of cop comedies, Extreme Job screens again next Wednesday (7/31), as part of this year’s Fantasia.