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[HanCinema's Film Review] "A Company Man" on the Edge of Freedom...

2013/02/16 | 2352 views |  | Permalink

Film: "A Company Man"

Director/Writer: Lim Sang-yoon

Stars: So Ji-sub, Lee Mi-yeon, Kwak Do-won, Lee Kyung-young & Kim Dong-jun

Review Score: 3.5 / 5

"Don't take it personally" are the words Lim Sang-yoon's hero proclaims as he gives his young and enthusiastic partner the bad news of his expulsion from 'the company'. In "A Company Man" debutant writer/director Lim Sang-yoon probes Korea's obsessive desire with white-collar jobs that are perceived to be the measure of success and status. This ideologically charged film demonstrates the creative and cinematic talents of Lim as he questions Korea's current social discourse on modern measures of success, wealth, and personal responsibility.

Writer/director Lim Sang-yoon's first feature may not have set the box office on fire when it was release in the latter half of 2012, but what stands out most here is his creative competency and mastery over the more technical aspect of cinema and narrative. The popular So Ji-sub plays Hyeong-Do, a highly trained and slick assassin who comes to question his role and future within the underground company he has so faithfully served. His quiet and reserved demeanour gets him the respect of his superiors, but also masks his own personal dissatisfaction with the path he finds himself on. His detressed moral compass starts getting him into trouble with the top brass, and soon he is forced into a corner with only one way to get out.

Throughout the film viewer's will be exposed to number of underlying themes and motifs that Lim has used to underscore this world of corporate control and fear. Yellow, for example, is plastered across a large number of scenes and adds a much welcomed psychological uneasiness to events. Like Hyeong-Do, the viewer is anxious and rightfully concerned about the outcome of his decisions, it's a sickening taint that haunts so many of films frames and subtly hints at a very pessimistic social worldview.

The film also reaches out to those areas of social life that are affect by the workingman's decision to entry into a large company. Take Su-Yeon (Lee Mi-yeon's character), for example, a single mother of two teenagers whose domestic life suggests that the absence of a male authority is detrimental to the nuclear familiar, leaving it almost lawless and without proper guidance. Su-Yeon's son Hyin-Yi is a high school dropout who managed to find work with this elite assassin's guild as he attempts to support his sick mother and his younger sister. Absent a father, Hyeong-do finds himself strangely attracted to the family and the comfort and warmth that comes with being a part of it. Here we begin to see the shift in Hyeong's priorities as his stone-cold work ethic becomes infected with the sympathies and attachments of family life.

The film also takes aim at generational concerns of social responsibilty. Hyeong is a middle-age man who is deeply entrenched within the company and would seem to be in the perfect position as his promotion looms. However, the film positions two other relationships above and below him that affect his newly found perspective. Su-Yeon's son Hyin-Yi represents Korea's youthful, yet seemingly misplace, dream of standing where Hyeong-Do finds himself now. In addition Hyeong himself in mentored by a retired company man who preaches the benefits of 'sticking it out' until retirement and his pension plan. It is between these two forces Hyeong finds himself, representing a transitional ideological shift from the ways of old, to the his own, newly realised, sense of responsibility to future generations.

"A Company Man" is a visceral and intellectual experience and Lim has found a workable balance between drama and action. The film's colour motifs, meaning compositional, creative framing, as well as the film's overall rhythm and pacing speaks to a director who is in control of his creative visions. The film is, however, not without its flaws. The score and accenting music found within is haphazardly comprised and awkwardly detracts from the otherwise stunning visuals. While many of lesser characters really do impress (Kwang Do-won performance as a snarky middle management figure, as well as a brief moment with a shotgun yielding corporate sectary, fro example), but some of the major faces seems stuck in rigid mouldings that only get cracked, but never break. So Ji-sub's cool, calm and collected persona does drag on as the film goes on, as his monosyllabic dialogue buries his character instead of building him. This seems to be a trend within Korean cinema as the construction of transformational heroes gets muddled with those of conviction.

"A Company Man" only just pushed past the million admissions mark, as after two weeks its numbers flatlined. I find that rather unfortunate as the film is highly entertaining and contains a undercurrent of cultural relevance that perhaps hit a little too close to home for local audiences.


- C.J Wheeler (

* Christopher is a film writer and a graduate arts student at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He lived and worked in South Korea for four years and there he channelled his passion for film into the Korean cinema scene. Driven by his rampant cinephilic needs and Korea's vibrant cinema, Chris now enjoys watching Korean films and writing about what he thinks of them.


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