I’ve mentioned before how Korean revenge movies start blending together in my mind after seeing so many of them. Another type of movie that start blending in my mind are the contracted killers disobeying orders from their boss, falling in love with their target or a woman/man, and the contracted killer getting hunted down. That’s a broad outline I know, but ever since viewing A Bittersweet Life (2005) for the first time this year I keep associating that premise with it. However, the way A Bittersweet Life (2005) told that story mesmerized me to the point I just can’t help think of it every time I see something similar. Forever ensuring it’ll standout in my mind no matter how many similar films I see. A Company Man (2012) won’t enjoy that same luxury, but it’ll go down as a good action flick that didn’t quite live up to its potential in my mind.
A Company Man is about Ji Hyeong-Do (So Ji-Sub), a contract killer operating in a modern day corporate structure. Before getting into the movie itself I have to compare this to the 2005 South Korean film A Bittersweet Life. Both A Bittersweet Life, and A Company Man tell very a similar story, and play out nearly the same. Having their loner leads start out emotionless, meeting a woman who is involved with music makes that they fall for, both protagonists become disgruntled with their everyday job, both leads are chased down by their bosses after disobeying orders, a climatic action sequence occurs at both leads former workplace, and both reflect how it all came down to this once the violence dies down. However, A Bittersweet Life is a half an hour longer helping it flesh out it characters, and themes that in A Company Man aren’t as fleshed out. In A Bittersweet Life there’s more presented to provide emotional investment that A Company Man lacks.
A Bittersweet Life isn’t the first, nor the last time a story about a contract killer disobeying order, and being hunted down is ever going to get told. For this instance, it was important to bring up because writer/director Lim Sang-Yoon is heavily inspired by A Bittersweet Life. Provided you seen A Bittersweet Life comparison to A Company Man are unavoidable while viewing it. Despite his ambitious to create a parallel between contract killers, and corporate office job equally dehumanizing it workers. Lim Sang-yoon can’t avoid the label of basically making an inferior version of A Bittersweet Life.
Diving into A Company Man itself the execution is decently done. The portrayal of contract hitman working in office type jobs is interesting to view. Making you want to learn more on how exactly this company functions, but never does. Then there’s also Ji Hyeong-do, our protagonist who starts the movie out wanting to quit his job. This decision does bring in the issue that it spends no time in showing Hyeong-do positive views on his workplace. Undermining a key trait of his character which is properly getting across how difficult it is for Hyeong-do to leave his job, and how betrayed he feels under this company.
While the nitty gritty of office work contract killers isn’t as fleshed as one would hope the conflicts are on the other hand. It might drop the ball on Hyeong-do attachment to his job, but witnessing the ugly side of it is shown. This is accomplished by having Hyeong-Do talk to two different individuals, and their different standing with the company. It’s through these scenes that Hyeong-Do slowly start to question what he’s doing with his life. Seeing the horrors his future might entails if he stays there longer. Allowing him to reflect on his life, and the offering the audience breathing room in understanding what kind man Hyeong-Do actually is.
When not about killing people, and retiring from that line of work. Hyeong-Do is soaking in a normal life. These scenes do their best in fleshing out the characters, but is hampered by the romance. Much in line with everything else in the story it’s a good idea that doesn’t quite reach the quality it should. Mainly using flashback to develop the romance Hyeong-Do has with a singer he was infatuated with in his youth. It’s a detail that contributes little in the long run. Especially when compared to the few times Hyeong-Do past is shown to the viewer. There’s also a young man whom Hyeong-Do sees himself in, but the sentiment of the idea will be more appreciated than the actual execution.
So Ji-sub take charge in the leading role. Reserve in his emotional expression he brings nuance needed for this portrayal. Coming off as discontent on the inside, and fitting into the role of a your average office worker. This works wonder for the film’s narrative since So Ji-Sub goes out of his way to come across as ordinary as possible. In the action sequences it’s a different story as So Ji-Sub comes across as a badass. If there’s a fault with Ji-Sub acting it would be during the last twenty minutes. Retaining his cold, introverted persona So Ji-Sub refuses to bring more emotion into his character is his most emotionally vulnerable in the final act.
The supporting cast do a solid job in their role. Only Kim Dong-Joon who plays a temp is given any ranged with his material. He’s basically a more expressive So Ji-sub bringing in partial emotional engagement that So Ji-sub failed to capture. Everyone else play their role in a by the number fashion. Kwak Do-Won is the one who comes to mind since he’s just grumpy looking in nearly every scene he’s in. Only being outmatched by the almost equally angry Jeon Kuk-Hwan who is more believable in his delivery. Then there’s Lee Mi-Yeon who plays a love interest of sorts. Other than looking pretty, she isn’t given much to work with like the rest of the supporting cast. It’s a film primarily carried by So Ji-sub with the supporting cast doing whatever they can with the limited material handed to them.
The worst edited action sequence comes when actor So Ji-sub has to fight against Yoo Ha-Bok in a small apartment. Attempting to make the sequence appear to be done in a single take, but coming off as choppily put together. Making it noticeable when both actors are inches apart from each other in every cut when a specific hit is thrown. It’s ambitious to make a action scene appear to have been done all done in a single take, but probably not something you should attempt to do in your directorial debut.
My favorite action scene is a fight sequence on a freeway that starts out inside a car, and eventually goes outside. The fight sequence is brief, but make use of the small interior of the car for some tight choreography. Getting surprisingly creative changing up shots without being overly edited. It’s easy to follow, and goes by pretty quickly. There’s also another fight sequence the occurs during the climax which makes use of more props. This particular fight is also brief, but is another good fight scene nonetheless.
The two shootouts on the other hand lack the polish that the fight scenes contain. One of them suffers from being shot in a confined space, and being cut too quickly to properly tell what’s going on. There’s this shootout in a office that’s pretty cool, but sloppy cinematography makes you wonder about the placement of certain actors. It’s a confined place the film attempts mask the unlikelihood that So Ji-Sub would survive. By not showing what’s directly in front of him when he’s attempting to open a door the action sequence isn’t tense. Another issue is the slick production disappears during this sequence, and there’s a notable drop in film quality. Despite this, it’s the standout sequence in the film for a reason. There’s plenty of environmental destruction, and the staging makes it stand out among your average gunfight.
A Company Man is unlikely to ever receive the same adoration that Kim Jee-Woon’s A Bittersweet Life has gained. By wearing that inspiration to the forefront A Company Man will inevitably stay in the shadow of what inspired it. However, by itself it’s a decently put together action movie elevated from some good action set pieces, and a great performance from So Ji-sub. It doesn’t reach greatness, but what is does accomplished is more than enough to pull it through to the end.