By Baek Byung-yeul
Playing protagonist Ji Hyeong-do, So Ji-sub doesn't actually utter these words, but all his actions and body language amounts to that one sentence that puts in a nutshell the toils and agonies of any salaried worker in Korea Inc.
But heartthrob So plays no ordinary salaried worker. As Ji in "A Company Man", he is a hired killer under the cover of a legitimate business.
Ji works for New Continental Metal Incorporated as a section chief of the 2nd sales section, but the main business of this company is contract killing. An otherwise unsuspicious beautiful office housed in a gigantic skyscraper is stashed with an assorted array of lethal weapons, with a separate clandestine conference room.
Ji is a highly rated figure at New Continental. He commands a great deal of respect amongst his subordinates in addition to the formidable trust of his director, earned by the precision and effective execution of his missions.
"If a company man holds on to the last and receives severance pay fully, it equals success. A company is like an old lover. We grow tired of being together and hate is piled up when we grow apart", says a retired ex-manager (Lee Geung-young) whom Ji views as a mentor.
Ji has dedicated his life to the loyal service of his company. His life meanwhile begins to change, after he meets Yoo Mi-youn (Lee Mi-yeon).
He becomes disillusioned about his work (this belatedly and surprisingly) and starts to dream of an ordinary life when he falls in love with Yoo, a former star whom he has yearned for since childhood. As Ji craves for normalcy, tragedy begins to germinate because resignation means death in his company as it refuses to allow people to quit.
"A Company Man" is the movie by and for the character Ji.
The action scenes are intensely depicted with the refined and restrained movements possible only for professional assassins. In a rather incomprehensible scene in the move, an outright contract-killing mission is carried out in a bloody day time gun battle, sparking suspicion, given that Korea enforces a strict gun control policy. This movie starts with Ji, who evokes a sentiment of pity from audience with his melancholic eyes, being scolded by his boss, who despite being a ruthless professional assassin, succeeds in disguising himself as a civilized gentleman. Ji describes his sorry state in a very succinct manner, particularly his plans to amend his ways and sometimes leaves the viewer thinking that he is engaged in a restless and possibly futile bout with fate.
His rigid demeanor and seemingly insincere remorseful reactions do not enhance the wit of the movie. His monotonous repetition of always being "sorry" stands out for particular criticism. In one of the scenes, his immediate superior Director Gwak Byoung-gyu (Kwak Do-won) is seen asking him in a harsh tone, "Why do you always allow situations to degenerate to this level? Say something other than I'm sorry!" a possible indication of how viewers may react to the character's generally erratic demeanor.
But the movie heads for a catastrophe when his unreflecting attitudes and actions are stacked up. And finally Ji ends up an insane murderer, not a cool killer.
"The most important point in action scenes is the motivation of why they fight to kill", said the director and writer of the film, Lim Sang-yoon. In his first full-length movie, the director tries to draw an analogous parallel between Korea's corporate culture and the unquestioning loyalty it demands from employees in a way that is akin to embarking on a contract-killing mission. Ironically, the link between the two cases that the director seeks to portray is not so palpable in the movie.
"A Company Man" is now showing in theatres nationwide. Rated 18 and over. Runs for 96 minutes. Distributed by Showbox.
The writer is an intern for The Korea Times.
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53rd Baeksang Arts Awards 2017