The Korean revenge thriller is a tried-and-true subgenre of modern action cinema. Movies like Oldboy and The Man from Nowhere aim to entertain and shock at the same time, with a mix of brutal fight sequences and clever narrative tricks designed to keep audiences on their toes. While A Company Man, the most recent entry in the subgenre, never reaches the same emotional heights as those instant classics, its set-up and action sequences are just about intriguing and inventive enough to make it worth watching.
A Company Man opens with a bang, as protagonist Hyeong-do (So Ji-Sub) casually discusses work with his colleague, the less-experienced Ra-Hoon (Kim Dong-Joon), before entering a building and calmly gunning down the people inside. It’s an appalling sequence, but one that sets the tone for the cold professionalism that Hyeong-do and Ra-Hoon live by – for them, assassination is just business as usual. Though they report to cubicles and answer to loud-mouthed bosses day after day, all of the employees at Hyeong-do’s ‘company’ are actually ruthless contract killers.
Though one of the best and brightest in the workplace, Hyeong-do is dissatisfied with such a brutal lifestyle. Rapidly tiring of what he sees as a dead-end job, Hyeong-do wishes for a way out of the company, away from a line of work which haunts him more with every waking moment. When he meets single mother Yoo Su-Yeon (Lee Mi-Yeon), Hyeong-do can finally imagine a future without the company, and quits. However, his employers see any retiree as a loose end and immediately send their best assassins after him. Backed into a corner and stripped of all other options, Hyeong-do unleashes a furious wave of vengeance on his former employers, determined to bring the entire company to its knees.
Possibly the cleverest part of A Company Man is how fully it commits to its idea of the cubicle contract killer. Reporting most days to a high-rise office building, behind a cluttered desk, Hyeong-do feels just as trapped and restless as most average cubicle-dwellers. The only time he gets out of the office is on assignments, when he coldly and efficiently takes out targets only to anticlimactically lumber back to his desk afterwards. The typical office nuisances are still a problem; a rude secretary, the arrogant overseer and hot-headed colleagues gunning for a promotion (literally) all put in appearances. There are some nice touches around the workplace as well; in the binders on employees’ desk lie Berettas in place of briefs, and each employee is decked out from head to toe in knives.
The other aspect of A Company Man that really works is its action. Under the keen eye of writer/director Lim Sang-Yoon, the film pulls off some truly audacious shots that send the audience hurtling over railings, through bullet holes in car roofs, and under a hail of gunfire, to name a few. Even the less inventive shots are exhilarating to watch, mostly because of Lim’s relentlessly furious pace. So and Kim are also both more-than-capable action stars, racing through the fight scenes at breakneck speeds and with an unflappable coolness that must have taken a lot of time and energy to master.
Unfortunately, A Company Man can’t maintain the same momentum during its dialogue-driven scenes, which are a surprisingly large chunk of the movie. Though So is terrific as the conflicted contract killer with a heart of gold, communicating countless emotions with a single glance, the film’s story of revenge is too derivative to stand the weight of supporting players who fail to convince us of much at all. No one else is even close to So’s level, and the film suffers in scenes where Lee or Kwak Do-Won (playing Hyeong-do’s loathsome boss Kwon Jong-tae) are called upon to act against or alongside him. They’re simply not up to the challenge, and so A Company Man repeatedly stagnates when it should excite.
The best of these Korean revenge thrillers captivate even when the guns are in their holsters – no, especially then – but A Company Man only truly exhibits signs of life once the bullets start flying. Lim’s mistake in penning the script the way he did was that he left too much time between shootouts without building tension, and so the movie’s narrative stalls. It’s more the fault of the supporting actors than his, but A Company Man‘s numerous scenes of exposition drag unnecessarily and could have benefitted greatly from the same tight direction that Lim utilizes during his action scenes.
Lim’s tale of an earnest hitman falling in love feels disappointingly familiar, revisiting the same genre beats of better films that came before it without contributing anything substantial of its own. Action fans will immediately pick up on the director’s talent for directing scenes of bullet-heavy carnage, and may enjoy the film because of them. Regrettably, there aren’t nearly as many action sequences as there should have been, and there’s absolutely no excuse for how clear it is that the rest of A Company Man is simply killing time between them.
This review was based on an online screener which we received access to for reviewing purposes from Cinedigm. A Company Man is available August 27th on Amazon Xbox, iTunes, Playstation, CinemaNow, Vudu, Google Play, Youtube, and DVD (through Well Go).