Judge Michael Nazarewycz dresses down for Casual Friday.
Ambition is a killer.
I've spent 100% of my full-time professional career—almost half my life—wandering the halls of Corporate America. I've clocked in early. I've clocked out late. I've pulled all-nighters. I've traveled near and far. I've entertained and have been entertained. Through it all, and in the name of a paycheck and benefits, I've been the dutiful employee and have done what my Company has asked me to do. In A Company Man, the protagonist is a working class guy like me. He wears standard business attire, he tolerates the daily grind, he suffers incompetent middle management, and he does what he is asked to do.
The two key differences between us? 1) He works in South Korea, I work in America; and 2) I am in banking and he is in killing.
Facts of the Case
That protagonist is Ji (Ji-seob So, Sophie's Revenge), a young and rising employee for a company in a unique industry. The shingle on the front of the building might suggest metal manufacturing, but the operation inside deals in contract assassinations. As the film opens, Ji is in the field and managing the efforts of an even younger Company employee, Hun (Dong-jun Kim in his first role). Hun infiltrates the building where his target is located (and under heavy police guard, no less) and dutifully carries out his job. But rather than giving his employee a positive review, Ji instead throws Hun over a stairwell railing—one last loose end.
Through unique circumstances, Ji meets Hun's mother, Yu (Mi-yeon Lee, Addicted) and falls in love with the (only slightly) older woman. As their relationship blossoms, so does Ji's career, in the form of a promotion. But his love for Yu is giving Ji pause to reconsider his career path. He starts losing his taste for his work, and after a seriously botched job, his bosses wonder if he still has what it takes. When he resigns from the Company, he leaves his bosses no choice but to eliminate him.
Writer/director Sang-yoon Lim, with his first cinematic effort, shows great promise. There's a particular scene early in the third act where Ji is fighting two people inside a car. Lim's camerawork moves the action from inside the car to outside the car in the cleverest of ways. It was a WOW moment for me, one that I revisited immediately and again after the film was done. Lim has other moments in the film, too, and it is clear that he is influenced by John Woo (Hard Boiled) and Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi).
But he isn't quite there yet. The Woo-inspired shots—smokey, atmospheric, deliberate—are works in progress. You can see what Lim is going for, but he doesn't quite get there. The same can be said for the gun-heavy action scenes. There is one shot in particular that looks like it came straight out of Desperado…almost. In all of these instances, though, there is never a sense that Lim fails to deliver; the sense is all diamond-in-the-rough. With time, Lim will learn. The shots will be a little wider, the deliberation a little more selective, the results a little more impressive.
Lim isn't without actual guilt, though. He needs to learn that establishing shots can be just as artistically important as main shots. There was never a point in the film where I wanted to pause and look at the image. Also, the film is poorly written.
Yes, there is a decent foundation in the premise, and Lim shows a spark of creativity in drawing parallels between a normal company and this one (a team lunch, for example). But much of the film and its characters are underdeveloped. (For example, Yu used to be a teen pop star. Why is this important to the film?) By the climactic ending, it is clear that Lim had a good idea and a collection of interesting set pieces, with little else in between.
Unlike my first Korean Noir film, New World, the high quality 1080p image in 2.35:1 here is wasted on pedestrian visuals. The same can be said for the DTS-HD 5.1 audio. In fact, there were times when a score would have really helped a scene, but Lim opted for silence and it didn't quite work.
Also absent from working are the extras, such as they are. In addition to the trailer, there is a five minute Making-of video, which is a nothing more than a collection of SD behind-the-scenes clips that offer no insight into the filmmaking process.
While A Company Man has more red in its ledger than black, there is more than enough good here to make me look forward to Sang-yoon Lim's next film.
Guilty, but with a suspended sentence.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
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