As soon as “A Company Man” opens, we are introduced to the film’s main character. What seemingly looks like an every day conversation between a company executive and a new employee, turns out to be the briefing from a hitman to his protege, who is on the verge of handling his first real mission by himself. The hitman-in-training has been tasked by The Company to infiltrate an office building and murder a high profile target. The film moves into it’s first act, and shows us just how skilled (albeit a little rough around the edges) this young assassin is. Everything seems to go according to plan until the professional hitman appears, throws his protege down a flight of stairs and leaves him for dead. We are told this wasn’t personal, but that The Company had made the decision to eliminate this young, new asset. The boy ends up surviving the fall, and naturally, this is where things go wrong. This leads to an emotional conflict within the main character, as he begins to question his own morals and values, as well as the nature and intentions of the company he works for. The more he struggles with this conundrum, the more dangerous and life threatening his lifestyle becomes…
If you’re like me, and you have watched your fair share of action movies (whether they be B movies, or AAA top dogs) – you’ll quickly be able to assess and predict the course of this film. From the opening scene to the ending credits, “A Company Man” follows all the familiar checkpoints within the “badass grows a conscience” sub-genre. The life – which our anti-hero appears to be ever so comfortable with – seems to become a source of sadness, loneliness and discomfort from the moment he follows the order to kill his protege. As with most, if not all films which follow a similar story; it raises many questions in regards to what exactly has been going on before the film starts. How is it possible that people with such impeccable composure of whom we are lead to believe have killed many people before we meet them, are suddenly changed to be a “better” person? This “Company Man” has been a professional hitman for the better part of his life, and we are supposed to believe that his uncompromisingly relentless nature and killer integrity are this easily broken over something he has done so many times before? Well, for the sake of the film’s entertainment value, let’s take it for what it is and put our own rational and logical thoughts on hold. If we manage to do that, we’ll find that underneath the familiar story and action movie cliches of “A Company Man” – lies a film that can be enjoyed for more than what it at first appears to be.
Being the debut project of Writer / Director Lim Sang-yoon, “A Company Man” has it’s share of faults, but none of them are significant enough to condemn the film as a whole. It borrows heavily from Lee Jeong-beom’s 2010 blockbuster “The Man From Nowhere” in regards to it’s protagonist. In many ways, the way So Ji-sub brings his character’s dialogue, mannerisms and general attitude to the screen is reminiscent of Won Bin’s composed and cold-hearted “Mister”. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it creates an inevitable link and consistent distraction as you watch “A Company Man” and try to remember what it reminds you of. Once I figured this out, I found myself comparing one to the other entirely too often, and decided to give this film a second watch, in an attempt to focus on it, and it alone. The second time around, I had a much better experience than I did the first time. The film features some great set design and interaction between main characters as well as supporting cast. As the film progresses we get a very clear idea of the hierarchy of this “Company” and just which expectations are to be met, and the standards by which it’s employers and employees are taught to live. The constant verbal and eventually physical struggle between our protagonist and one of his superiors is as aggravating to watch as it is entertaining. It shows how honor, respect and tradition are a big part of how far you’ll make it, in spite of the things you are forced to deal with. The film’s pacing is just right, and allows for the story and characters to breathe and develop in a comfortable and efficient fashion.
Unfortunately, the final act of the film features a plethora of the previously mentioned action movie clishes and a series of events which push “A Company Man” into borderline stupid territory. We are made witness to a huge shootout between our anti-hero (who has seemingly evolved to a super-human level) and a large group of company employees. I’m not entirely sure what happened here, but as soon as the bullets start flying, the camera work changes. This gives the entire shootout a strange “video” or even “soap opera” feel which is a major distraction as well as a disappointment in regards to the rest of the film’s cinematography and overall visual presentation. Add to this the exaggerated “swoosh” sounds during fist & knife fights, the horribly unrealistic and nearly comedic manner in which the obscene amount of firearms are handled, and the fact that our protagonist takes bullet after bullet without really slowing down…and what we’re left with isn’t much more than a run of the mill, TV action film. This is truly an unfortunate disappointment, for everything that leads up to this point really isn’t bad, at all.
What irked me most is the fact that whatever sense of realism the film managed to create is instantly shattered the moment all of these firearms come out. As I previously mentioned in my review of “New World” – South Korea is extremely strict on firearms. The government has made it so incredibly difficult to obtain one, that the majority of South Korea’s police officers don’t even carry them. Yet, every single “Company” employee seems to have a firearm of his or her own preference hidden in their cubicle. Not only does this take away all the believability of the film, it also shows just how inexperienced South Korean actors & directors are in regards to handling firearms. These are supposed to be highly trained, professional assassins whom are familiar with their weapons of choice, but they look uncomfortable and generally out of place as soon as the shooting starts. Weapons are held in a silly, clunky and even sideways “gangster style” manner, shooters’ eyes are obviously closed when firing, reloads are nonexistent and CQC “tactical” movement is laughably bad. I know it sounds like I am being harsh, but it’s just that bad. As a lover of South Korean cinema, it’s incredibly difficult for me to put myself past this major flaw, for this has Hollywood written all over it.
The film’s video presentation is generally above average to very good. Blacks are black, colors are vibrant and natural and detail in small objects, faces and clothing looks great. Skin tones are especially accurate throughout the film, too. A Company Man features some great cinematography and set design, as well as visually striking on-location shots. In particular the scene in which our anti-hero drives the car in the rain near the end, is quite stunning. Unfortunately, the camera work and overall “look” during the final shootout is so poor compared to the rest of the film, I am docking the video score an extra shuriken.
A Company Man’s HD Master Audio 5.1 track is as solid as it gets. Dialogue is easily understood and separated from whatever else is going on. LFE are present but never overly “boomy” and (surprisingly) gunshots sound pretty good, too. As I mentioned above, there are some seriously exaggerated “swoosh” sounds during fights throughout the film. As much as this shouldn’t affect the audio rating, it does take away from the quality of the generally well choreographed and visceral fight scenes.
Not much here in terms of supplements. A small making of featurette and a trailer for the film. It’s not much, but seeing as the extras on the Korean Blu-ray release don’t amount to much more, this is better than nothing at all.
A Company Man is by no means a bad film, but it isn’t a great film either. It is certainly entertaining enough to justify a watch, but don’t go into it expecting it to be up to par with similar South Korean films like “The Man From Nowhere” or “A Bittersweet Life”. It’s a shame the film’s final act leads up to such a disappointing and unbelievable climax, but it still deserves to be seen and appreciated for what it is. The disc packs solid audio and video, but little to no real extras. If you’re interested in the film, it is currently available for pre-order for a little over $10. Courtesy of Well-Go USA, “A Company Man” will be released on Blu-ray come August 27th.