Director: Yong Soo
Cast: Sul Kyung-gu, Cho Jin-woong, Heo Joon-ho, Jin Seon-kyu, Kim Sa-rang, Ji Seung-hyun
Runtime: 1 hr 57 mins
Rating: NC16 (Some Coarse Language and Violence)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 7 November 2019
Synopsis: Once an infamous lawyer for taking up any case for money, Jang-su (SUL Kyung-gu) is now a terminally ill patient. His dreary time left is shaken up by the new volunteer Young-ki (CHO Jin-woong), a low-life gangster assigned to complete a court-ordered community service. Finding Young-ki’s unrefined manner refreshing and authentic, Jang-su asks Young-ki to help him complete his bucket list in return of a large sum of his life insurance money. In desperate need of fast cash, Young-ki accepts the offer, but the job leads them to an unexpected ending.
Comparisons with the 2011 hit French film ‘The Intouchables’ are inevitable, but familiarity aside, ‘Man of Men’ still is amusing, engaging and surprisingly poignant.
Much of its charm is credit to the chemistry between Sol Kyung-gu and Cho Jin-woong, the former as the terminally ill patient Jang-su and the latter as the brash but kind-hearted gangster Young-ki. Once an infamous lawyer for rich defendants hoping to get away scot-free for their crimes, Jang-su now lives in a palliative care facility waiting for death to finally come for him. It is at this facility where Young-ki is assigned to serve out his court-ordered community service, after beating up a bunch of goons at a nightclub.
As you may expect, Jang-su and Young-ki do not immediately get along with each other, not least because the former regards the latter as no different from them low-lifes he used to work for in the past. That changes when Jang-su decides to engage Young-ki to help complete his bucket list; in return, Jang-su promises Young-ki a large sum of his life insurance money, which would be more than enough to cover what Young-ki had secretly taken from his boss Bum-do (Heo Jun-ho) that is now lost in a investment gone bad.
Over a baseball game, driving around in a luxury sports car and supper next to the beautiful Busan Harbour Bridge, the pair forge an unlikely friendship that would be tested in the second half of the film. Oh yes, without giving too much away, one of the last things on Jang-su’s list involves confronting the person who had caused him to end up in this state, and Young-ki baulks at being the accomplice in what he fears is Jang-su’s burning desire to get even.
It is this turn of events which proves surprisingly moving, as both Jang-su and Young-ki are forced to re-examine their previous choices in life which have led to their current state. On one hand, Jang-su’s disregard for the victims of the defendants he had helped acquit has irreversible impact on the former’s lives; on the other, Young-ki’s greed had led him to disregard the inevitable consequences on him and his buddy Dae-guk (Jin Seon-kyu) when Bum-do eventually finds out what Young-ki had been doing behind his back. Their personal reckonings is told with much sensitivity, and right up to the bittersweet ending, you’ll be rooting for both of them to finally make peace with their demons.
Like we said, Sol and Cho are the two key reasons the familiar yet effective film works. Cho gives a performance perfectly balanced between impudence and thoughtfulness, showing both his character’s bold, sometimes bellicose, nature and his better conscience within. Especially in the later half, Cho truly impresses with his heartfelt portrayal of Young-ki’s deeper insecurities, grappling with trying to extricate himself as well as those around him from the folly of his own ways. Next to Cho, Sol underplays his role with stoicism, but conveys Jang-su’s emotional struggles with clarity and depth.
So though it draws from an established template, ‘Man of Men’ is undeniably a buddy film which is both entertaining and affecting. Though it suffers from some pacing issues, Yong-soo’s debut feature film is still a solid debut that effectively mixes both drama and comedy winningly. Those who are familiar with Busan where the film is set will also identify with the various locations where it is filmed, and certainly recognise fondly how Jang-su’s nature is that of an archetypal Busan male. Neither male here is perfect, much as the Chinese/ Korean title suggests, but by virtue of their infectious chemistry, we guarantee that you’ll enjoy being in their presence anyways.
(As familiar as it may be, this Korean buddy flick is amusing, engaging and surprising poignant tale of two men coming to terms with their respective life choices)
Review by Gabriel Chong