That ever popular darling of genre cinema, the strong, silent and stylishly dressed hitman returns in Korean thriller “A Company Man”, marking the debut of writer director Lim Sang Yoon. To be fair, Lim does try to shake up the usual mix of moodiness and bullets with a few new ideas, portraying the assassination game as just another corporate venture, with popular actor So Ji Sub (“Rough Cut”) as the titular killer, a man whose working life, aside from the business of murder, is very much like that of other people. Possibly due to the presence of So, the film proved popular at the domestic box office, noting up over a million admissions within 2 weeks of its release, despite its very familiar sounding premise.
So plays Hyung Do, who has spent his life dedicated to his job as an assassin and to the company he works for, gradually rising up the ranks to a managerial position. A quiet man who lives an ordered existence, Hyung Do spends his days following orders and his nights sitting quietly by himself, as is often the case in this kind of film. After a young protégée he is instructed to kill (Kim Dong Jun of idol group ZE:A, in his big screen debut) makes of him the final request to deliver some money to his mother Su Yeon (Lee Mi Yeon, “Love Exposure”), his world changes when he realises the she is actually a former singer whose music had a major impact on him growing up. However, Hyung Do soon finds that leaving the company behind isn’t particularly easy, and when his bosses mark him as a target and threaten his burgeoning romance with Su Yeon, he’s forced to try and turn the tables on them in violent fashion.
As should be pretty obvious from the above, “A Company Man” sticks close to the template laid down by the likes of “A Bittersweet Life”, “The Man from Nowhere” and others, with the same vaguely-noir feeling and a very similar central protagonist. Certainly, in terms of character, Lim Sang Yoon doesn’t go for anything particularly original, Hyung Do being exactly the kind of idealised, handsomely melancholic figure so beloved of genre screenwriters, his development arc playing out by the numbers and his relationship with Su Yeon and gradual awakening being entirely predictable. This over-familiarity is definitely the film’s most serious weakness, and through no fault of So Ji Sub, who delivers a perfectly reasonable lead performance, there’s not enough meat or creativity to grab on an emotional or particularly dramatic level.
This aside, there’s a fair amount of enjoyment to be had here, and Lim’s reimagining of the assassin as a 9-5 salaryman, involved in the same kind of corporate politics and subject to on the job stress, is clever and amusing. Indeed, the film is at its best and most inventive during its office scenes rather than following Hyung Do staring at Su Yeon or sulking by himself, the staff all sitting around, treating assassinations like everyday jobs, working on admin with guns within easy reach making for some interesting scenes. While none of this is terribly believable, and the film’s later plot twists are a bit daft and reliant upon coincidence, there’s enough here to overcome the lack of effort in other areas and to help keep the viewer entertained during the short and fast moving running time.
It also helps that the film is directed with composure and reasonable flair by Lim, who shows a quiet sense of style and polish throughout. Though after an explosive opening there isn’t much action for the first hour, when the film does shift up a gear for the final act, it’s genuinely exciting and thrillingly violent, with some excellent shootouts and well-handled set pieces as Hyung Do finally gets down to business. This sees the film building to a rousing finale, and though again the conclusion echoes that of many others, it’s at least delivered with some punch.
As a result, though by no means the last word on the subject or even terribly memorable, “A Company Man” is an enjoyable and decent genre entry, its character clichés at least partly excused by its fun corporate theme. For a debut, it’s a solid effort from Lim Sang Yoon, marking him as a director worth watching in the future, especially if he turns his eye to something a little more creative, and fans of So Ji Sub should certainly have a good time watching the actor going through the usual hitman with a heart routine.
Sang-yoon Lim (director) / Sang-yoon Lim (screenplay)
CAST: Ji-Sub So … Ji Hyeong-do
Mi-yeon Lee … Yuk Mi-yeon
Do Won Kwak … Gwon Jong-tae
Dong-jun Kim … Ra Hun
Kyeong-yeong Lee … Ban Ji-hun