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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Commitment"

2013/11/02 | 3274 views | Permalink

There's a swift brutality to the action scenes in "Commitment" that really demands attention. When young North Korean spy Myeong-hoon (played coldly by Choi Seung-hyun) decides he needs to torture and probably kill someone, he wastes no time with trickery and gets right down to the fundamentals. The resulting beatdowns are intense and hard-hitting, really evoking the sense that we're in the same room as people who are fighting to the death.

This contrasts nicely with Myeong-hoon's life as a high school student. There's interesting commentary here about the aloof, impersonal nature of South Korean culture compared to the North Korean ideals of not-screwing-around that Myeong-hoon seems to embody. Myeong-hoon's sham life consists of indifferent parents and bullying classmates, none of whom know or care about what Myeong-hoon does after hours because they're all so tied up in their own hypocritical schemes of advancement at the expense of others.

The effect of this message threatens to make "Commitment" the dark side version of "Secretly and Greatly". South Korean culture, rather than being a beacon of hope, is instead the very poison that makes it so easy to infiltrate. Unfortunately, by the second act this theming is quickly lost. As Myeong-hoon moves away from his surface life into ever more elaborate spy capers, it becomes clear that "Commitment" has nothing more to say or do than just be a typical action potboiler.

Let's take Myeong-hoon's motives- to save his poor beleaguered sister from life in a labor camp. This is all well and good as an impetus for plot, but "Commitment" attempts to use this motivation as a parallel to Myeong-hoon's semi-romantic storyline with Hye-in (played by Han Ye-ri). This might have been effective except that the movie is in such a hurry to drag MyeonghHoon away from actual emotional confrontations regarding his cover story to turning him into a super-spy. The film expects us to see these two as having a genuine connection, and maybe they do, but it's completely out of proportion to the outrageous gun fights we end up getting.

Earlier I praised the swift brutality of Myeong-hoon's fight scenes- part of why they work so well is because there's a sense of urgency, that he has to finish this fast because for the most part he's a normal physically fit young man, not a superhero. Well, by the end he's basically a superhero, complete with villains engaging in really dumb unnecessarily theatrical tactics for no reason except to hit the requisite explosion quota for a blockbuster. The ambivalent nature of Myeong-hoon's mission and the question of why it really succeeds gives way to typical action movie antics that are nearly the thematic opposite of the film's early successes.

The ending, too, follows this basic pattern. It's passable, I guess, although it really doesn't make that much sense and is building off a very undeveloped parallel. "Commitment" as a whole can be well-described by this. It's not a bad film. It just had the potential to be so much better, and the decision to take the story in such a generic direction so separate from the early scenes is a disappointing one.

Review by William Schwartz

"Commitment" is directed by Park Hong-soo and features Choi Seung-hyun, Han Ye-ri and Yoon Je-moon.

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