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August 27, 2013

A Company Man

a company man 1.jpg

Hoi-sa-wan
Lim Sang-yun - 2012
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

I'm not giving anything away here in describing the basic plot. A contract killer begins to have second thoughts about his choice of work. Unfortunately for him, the company he works for does not have any plans to let him quit, or leave the company alive. What is interesting about the way Lim Sang-yun tells what is essentially a familiar story is how the ordinary is emphasized. The characters all describe what they do as "just work". There are bravura moments in the shoot outs that bookend A Company Man, but otherwise there is nothing that appears glamorous in the locations or in how characters dress.

There is a familiarity to seeing men and women in blue suits, required to have badges that are electronically scanned for entrance to the workplace. The company, one that specializes in metal fabrications, might be a front, but as one cop puts it, it is an ordinary company, at least in appearance. For all anyone can tell, the business here could be insurance. There is the hidden entrance leading to a labyrinthian path to a darker office, where you are met by own older woman, tending to her knitting when she's not cleaning recently used guns. As for the front company, even the receptionist is packing heat.

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Unlike some of the recent Korean films that show off the glitzier side of Seoul, the street view here is of run down buildings, small shops and restaurants, people just getting by. The hitman, Hyung-do, walks by a street covered many times over with old, torn posters. A twenty year old poster is spotted of a former teen idol, now a single mother with two children in her late teens. There are personal implications to this scene, but in the larger view, that contrary to surface appearances, all life and work is transitory.

Lim's ability to portray a recognizable mundane environment helps make the action scenes stand out. This makes the final shoot out, in the office, more extraordinary. Even with the knowledge that he knows all will be trying to kill him, Hyung-do shows up, confronting his co-workers. One arm hidden behind their respective backs, and an exchange of courteous words, does not hide that these formally dressed office workers all have guns, and are ready to kill Hyung-do. Beyond the bullets, knives and other implements to maim and murder, is a critique of an almost universal culture that places loyalty to the work place above anything else.

The former teen idol seen in the poster, Mi-yeon, is a pivotal character in the story. At a couple of points, songs performed by her character are on the soundtrack. It would have been better had, the songs also been subtitled as they would have presumably added a commentary to the action. Yes, I know that translations of songs aren't easy, between choosing the best words, or keeping lyrics that rhyme. Maybe I'm the only one of the non-Korean speaking viewers who feels like he's missing something here. Untranslated song lyrics aside, this is a fairly solid debut from writer-director Lim.

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Posted by peter at August 27, 2013 08:13 AM