Top Korean actor Kim Myung Min follows up his award winning performance in the tough illness drama “Closer to Heaven” with something quite different, though no less difficult in “Man of Vendetta”. Marking the debut of writer director Woo Min Ho the film is another in the currently popular kidnap genre, this time with a moral twist, seeing Kim as a minister whose life changes completely when his daughter is snatched. Mixing thrills and complex plotting, the film is also notable for the comeback of television actress Park Joo Mi (“All In”) as his tortured wife, and the presence of rising child star actress Kim So Hyun (“Baker King”, “Kim Tak Goo”).
Kim stars as pastor Young Soo, and the film begins with him attempting to hand money at an ice hockey rink to the man who has kidnapped his daughter, only for everything to go badly wrong. Eight years later, with his daughter never having been found, Young Soo has abandoned his faith and the church, while his wife (Park Joo Mi) still desperately searches for the poor child, pestering the police and handing out flyers on the street. A chance encounter results in the former minister getting a call from the kidnapper, who insists that the girl is still alive and asks for more money, demanding that there be no police involvement this time. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t be worse, with the now rather shady Young Soo being in dire financial straits, pushing him to take matters into his own hands.
“Man of Vendetta” is a film which walks a pretty fine line between being a serious, weighty affair, and a high octane thriller. Despite being a first time helmer, Woo Min Ho successfully pulls off this balancing act, and the film is one of the rare examples of a blockbuster which is thoughtful and intricately plotted as well as exciting. The film certainly has more depth than most of its peers, covering plenty of interesting moral ground, though thankfully not making too much of the rather obvious symbol of Young Soo’s lapsed faith. Kim Myung Min is on great form in the lead, and really does carry the film in this respect, adding real depth to his role and making him a compellingly flawed, though essentially sympathetic figure. The film does to an extent follow the expected redemptive character journey, though Woo’s writing is solid, and as with “The Chaser”, it avoids too many clichés along the way and never provides any easy answers or sudden lurches into good-heartedness. This makes the film emotionally quite powerful at times, and its human elements are every bit as engaging as its taut, shifting cat and mouse style plot.
Woo’s direction is similarly slick, and he throws in plenty of action to keep things moving along at a good pace, with car chases and tense standoffs alongside the expecting shaky camera foot pursuit scenes. Although some of these are a little gratuitous, they are nicely handled and serve their purpose well, with some fairly brutal fight scenes lending the film a very welcome hard edge. The film also has a different feel to the average kidnap thriller thanks to several surprisingly gory and violent murders, with the child snatcher offing pretty much everyone who comes even vaguely close to uncovering his secret, with a few other random killings tossed in for good measure. Whilst on the one hand this does undermine the film’s sense of realism, since it’s difficult to believe such an obvious psycho could remain uncaught, let alone keep a girl imprisoned and alive for 8 years, it does add another layer of danger and threat. In its own gruesome way, this also makes the film more fun, with some effective moments of suspense as the supporting cast are gradually whittled down one by one in amusingly ruthless fashion.
“Man of Vendetta” has its share of wild moments, and is all the better for it, being far more lively than its potentially po-faced premise might have suggested, and indeed more entertaining in general than other recent kidnap themed films. Bolstered and given a certain dignity by Kim Myung Min’s excellent central performance, it makes for gripping viewing throughout, and works both as a slice of painfully human drama and explosive visceral thrills.
Woo Min-ho (director) / Woo Min-ho (screenplay)
CAST: Kim Myeong-min