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March 10, 2014

Commitment

Commitment poster.jpg

Dong-chang-saeng
Park Hong-soo - 2013
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

In substance rather than style, Commitment reminds me of classic film noir, especially films by Fritz Lang and Samuel Fuller. It doesn't take long to realize that we are in an environment, in this case contemporary Incheon, and you just never know who's really a North Korean agent, either sent on a mission, or simply biding their time between assignments. Even more treacherous is that there is a power struggle between factions, with the internecine murders making any conflicts between North and South seem almost an afterthought.

I don't know how much of the film to take at face value, but I assume that there's some basis in reality. Where Lang is recalled is in how the viewer, much like the main character learns to never trust anyone, and not to make assumptions based on exterior appearances. The most innocuous facade, whether that of a pharmacist, or a grandmotherly street vendor, could actually be an enemy agent. That there are networks supposedly on the same side, but murdering each other, adds to the paranoia. Where Fuller comes to mind is how within this story of political espionage, personal loyalties trump are more important than politics of any kind.

commitment 1.jpg

The story pivots on family relationships. Nineteen year old Myung-hoon and his sister are in a North Korean prison due to their father, a secret agent, getting caught and killed in South Korea. Myung-hoon's only way out is to become an assassin, with a mission to kill other North Korean agents belonging to a rival faction. Myung-hoon's youth would appear to be a great disguise. More challenging than stalking and murdering other spies, is playing the part of a high school student. The school bullies are bad enough, but what undoes Myung-hoon is a growing attachment to a fellow student with the same name as his sister, a young woman without a family. The major shifts revolve around Myung-hoon's adoptive family in South Korea, and the two young women named Hye-in.

I took a glance at a music video of star Choi Seaung-hyun just to make sure if he was capable of anything other than an impassive expression. Indee, it is deliberate that Choi appears almost blank. Choi's face is like a mask hiding thoughts and emotions. Myun-hoon's only wish seems to be to anonymously fulfill his mission in this alien environment. When he lets down his guard long enough to show enough physical force, the effect is dramatic.

High school is easy because there is no second guessing about the students and teachers. What makes Commitment fascinating is that it is outside of school that the viewer is kept off-kilter, not knowing the hidden agendas of several of the characters, or what they might do to each other. The Korean title translates as "classmate", though I think the English title is better. The English title not only works on multiple levels, but can be applied to several characters. For Myung-hoon the conflict is between the personal and the political, until the finale, when there are no more choices.

Posted by peter at March 10, 2014 08:40 AM