Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Company Man: Lifetime Employment

Contract killing is one of the few recession-proof industries.  Given the illusive nature of our economic recovery, it probably won’t be long before the administration starts doing photo ops with the Assassination Bureau.  At least, murder-for-hire is still illegal in Korea, but it is a tough racket to quit.  On the plus side, there will be a whole lot of openings at Ji Hyeong-do’s firm by the time he finishes resigning in Lim Sang-yun’s A Company Man (trailer here), which releases on digital, DVD, and BluRay today, from Well Go USA.

Ji is on the fast track.  His people skills are not great, but he has other talents the firm’s president values highly.  His upward career trajectory will hit a few speed bumps when two rather messy assignments start gnawing at his conscience.  First, Ji must dispose of Ra-hun, a young “temp” who thought he was in the management trainee program, after the kid caps a sensitive target.  To make matters worse, Ra-hun’s struggling single mother happens to be Yoo Mi-yeon, the one-hit wonder teen idol Ji always had warm fuzzy feelings for. 

As Ji starts looking after Yoo and her teen-aged daughter, the president tasks him with “taking care” of Jin Chae-hook, his former superior who has gone AWOL after the accidental death of his son.  Suddenly, Jin has a lot to say to Ji, which he does not want to hear, even though he more or less knows it all already.  Wanting to start a new life with Yoo, Ji decides to resign from the firm.  Right, good luck with that.

Yes, the corporate hitman-gangster thing has become a pretty shopworn movie cliché in the post-Sopranos era.  Lim adds little insight into either the world of the salaryman or the contract killer.  However, he racks up quite an impressive body count.  While the middle gets a little draggy as Ji slowly starts putting the moves on Yoo, the set-up is smooth and grabby and the third act delivers in spades.  Company was a monster hit at the Korean boxoffice, so you know you can take happily-ever-after off the table.  Popular Korean audiences just seem to dig a bit of tragedy.  Nevertheless, the big climax well exceeds viewer expectations with a massive dose of violent action.  It is not exactly John Woo’s Hard-Boiled, but it provides a good, stiff fix for genre fans.

As Ji, Rough Cut star So Ji-sub moves like a shark through his action scenes and broods like he really means business.  Lee Mi-yeon nicely counterbalances the regiment of jaded sociopaths as the effervescent, but not overly perky Yoo.  Amid all the dark suits, Kwak Do-won also makes an effectively loathsome villain as the firm’s petty micromanaging second in command.

Viewers in a hurry can probably get away with watching the first ten minutes of Company and then fast forwarding to the last half hour.  Indeed, when Lim fully unleashes the mayhem it is kind of awesome.  A safe bet recommendation for action fans, A Company Man is now available for home viewing options from Well Go USA.