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Thread: A MAN OF REASON (Jung Woo-song 2022)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    A MAN OF REASON (Jung Woo-sung 2022)



    Jung's debut as star-director has style, lacks meaning

    Arriving a little late on these shores (it debuted at Tononto in mid-September 2022 and opened in Korean theaters in mid-August of last year), this film is a sleek, dark thriller with a tad more style than logic. It's the directorial debut of Jung Woo-sung, a well-known action film actor, in which he also plays the moody, stylish lead. The setup, as reviewers have fallen over themselves to point out, is a familiar one (they differ widely on whether that's okay or not). Gangster veteran Soo-hyeok (Jung Woo-sung)'s prison release leads to immediate conflict with his former boss because he now wants to live a quiet life. The boss, Eung-gook (Park Sung-woong), who now goes by "chairman," having assumed a more legit development-property management, hotelier sheen to his nefarious enterprises, of course wants Soo-hyeok to go back into full gangster assassin mode. We witness the murder of a pastor and torching of his church as a sample of the "chairman's" real estate operations.

    Considering any other function on Soo-hyeok's part unsafe, the "chairman" sets his chief current henchman Woo-jin (Kim Nam-gil) to watch our hero closely. Henchman has other plans: seeing Soo-hyeok as a threat he sets out to eliminate him, hunting him down and kidnapping his former girlfriend Min-seo (Lee Elijah) and her young daughter Inbi (Ryu Jian), who Soo-hyeok has learned is his.

    So Soo-hyeok has a lot to deal with, and so there is plenty of action, right? Well, yes and no. This film has been several times compared unfavorably to John Wick, which delivers constant mayhem, and though it starts out with the hero combating a crowd of heavies in the darkness of a nightclub blackout armed only with a knife and a flashlight (apparently the crime that got the protagonist in prison), there is something moody and glum here, a tendency for things to go all quiet for no special reason. It's a thriller that's elegant but also somehow depressed. Shiny and dark like the big flashy black BMW the hero drives (maybe this is most of all an advert for the German make), it could use more scenes where people interact with each other in interesting, meaningful, human Tarantino-style ways, not just fight or talk on their cell phones and do random crazy Park Chan-wook-derived crazy Korean movie things.

    Everything is shot with high competence by cinematographer Go Rak-sun, though when I say that I remember the knowing (or know-it-all) Letterboxd contributor who says of this film that despite "a couple of cool stunts and gags" (like the nail-gun fight, or the scooter kid who pretends to "shoot" the hero armed with an actual machine gun) "but so intensely generic overall" that he's "convinced it was directed by a 2nd unit." I am sorry for Seongyong of "Seongyong's Private Place" who found his watch of this film "one of the most joylessly hollow experiences I have ever had at a movie theater." He may have been having a bad day, but that this can be said suggests hilarity is not the prevalent mood of this piece. It is thoroughly nutty though. Its lack of any guiding "reason" at all is perhaps its greatest fault., and with that, characters who are shallow and too similar.

    The site called "Screen Zealots" speaks for me when it says Man is "a thriller that's slowed down by a disproportionate amount of laborious dramatic scenes that suck all the energy out of the more exciting parts of the film." The "action" level, the momentum and suspense from scene to scene, keeps getting becalmed until the final nutty-violent finale section, which makes no sense, but is colorful. This goes with the frequent remarks of some reviewers that this is an unusually beautiful film. Being thrilled by action and admiring beauty aren't activities that go well together. There is nothing wrong with visual elegance, of course, it just can't be the dominant element in an action movie. There is action here, but it just doesn't make enough sense. And the Buster Keaton-esque star winds up just being a total blank. That BMW has as much personality as he does.

    A Man of Reason (Korean: 보호자; Hanja: 保護者; RR: Bohoja; lit. "Guardian"), 99 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 13, 2022, with Aug. 15, 2023 Korean theatrical release. Screened for this review in connection with its Jul. 5, 2024 US release in theaters (VOD July 9).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-06-2024 at 12:26 AM.


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