It's no secret that the corporate game is a cutthroat and deadly environment, but 'A Company Man' takes this concept to a new level. An action packed Korean crime flick, the movie merges the high stakes world of contract killing with the monotony of a 9 to 5 office gig, turning murder into a suits and tie affair complete with a cubicle. Well, a cubicle and a hidden series of backrooms stockpiled with weapons and ammo. While this slight twist to the genre offers some amusement, the film still proves to be exceedingly familiar and predictable. Thankfully, it's also pretty damn cool, offering a John Woo-esque ballet of stylized violence that should please action junkies looking for a solid fix.
Hyeong-do (Ji-seob So) is a professional hitman who works for a covert business that deals with hired assassinations. When he is tasked with eliminating a rookie recruit (Kim Dong-jun), he has a crisis of conscience. Even worse, he begins to develop feelings for the young man's mother (Lee Mi-yeon), and soon the company starts to doubt his loyalties. Torn between his duties and his heart, the once cold blooded killer will have to choose love or his career -- but quitting this job proves to be a dangerous prospect.
Turning contract killing into a white collar profession is a fairly inspired concept, and the filmmakers do inject the proceedings with some dry humor that plays up the incongruity. A typical corporate retreat among the killers is especially amusing. With that said, the script doesn't go far enough in this direction, slightly squandering what could have been a more creative premise. The idea is ripe for dark satire that lampoons the business world, but with few exceptions, the writer never really does much with these potentially biting parallels. Likewise, the sardonic humor that is present, is misguidedly joined by a few comparatively cheesy attempts at comedy that don't work nearly as well.
Outside of its central spin on the crime genre, the plot and characterizations are disappointingly by-the-numbers. Hyeong-do is the same old "icy killer who develops a heart" that we've seen countless times before, and the rest of the movie is also filled with similar stock characters (he's even got an older, retired killer friend who he turns to for advice). I'll refrain from going into detail about the various twists and turns throughout the runtime, but it's unlikely that fans of similar films will find any surprises here. All the typical dramatic beats and reversals one would expect to see are present, and the protagonist's journey ends up being wholly predictable and clichéd. Now, all of this negative talk might make it sound like I didn't like 'A Company Man,' but oddly enough, that's really not the case.
Despite the derivative scripting and missed satirical opportunities, the movie is elevated greatly by strong direction, engaging performances, and some kick ass action scenes. Director Sang-yoon Lim creates a slow, contemplative mood that explodes in bursts of stylized violence and demonstrates a surprising command of tone and pace. Dialogue is sparse, letting the calculated visuals and escalating tension do most of the talking, and the aesthetic manages to be gritty and slick all at once. The gun fights are wonderfully choreographed, offering decidedly exaggerated, nearly balletic skirmishes without completely sacrificing a certain level of realism, greatly echoing the works of John Woo (sans flying doves). The climax is particularly noteworthy, and while there are admittedly times when all the sensationalized bloodshed starts to feel a bit excessive, the sequence should more than please big fans of blazing bullets. And thankfully, even beyond all the gunshots and flying fists, the actors do a great job of instilling genuine emotion into their characters, making up for deficiencies in the writing through surprisingly nuanced performances.
'A Company Man' has an inkling of a genuinely intriguing premise, but the writing fails to really capitalize on the concept's full potential. Instead, what we get here is a mostly generic crime flick that still manages to succeed thanks to a confident visual style, a strong ensemble, and some genuinely cool action sequences. Sure, I rolled my eyes and groaned a fair amount during each predictable plot turn, but despite this familiarity I was somehow still engaged in the story and thoroughly entertained by the gun fights. The white collar crime flick isn't likely to win employee of the month anytime soon, but its offenses are far from deserving of termination.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Well Go USA brings 'A Company Man' to Blu-ray on a single BD-25 disc housed in a keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. After some fast-forwardable trailers the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is Region A compatible.
The film is presented in a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Marked by a gritty and assured style, the movie looks strong on Blu-ray, with sharp detail and pleasing depth.
Shot on the Red Epic, the digital source is nearly pristine, but there is some very minor noise, negligible aliasing/shimmering, and a fleeting instance of banding. Clarity is impressive, revealing fine textures and details throughout the image. A life-like sense of dimension is also evident. The color palette sticks to slightly sickly cool, yellow, or green tones, giving the film an appropriately grungy aesthetic. Whites are bright and blacks are deep and inky, though there is some faint crush in shadows.
With a fitting style and sharp detail, 'A Company Man' is dressed to impress in high definition. There are some minor artifacts, but the vast majority of the presentation is clean and problem free.
The movie is provided with a Korean DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and optional English subtitles. Spacious and artistically measured, the mix does a great job of bolstering the film's violent and forbidding mood, and explodes with action when the bullets start to whiz.
Dialogue is clean and full-bodied throughout with no balance issues. From falling rain to roaring engines to rhythmic window wipers, the track offers an appropriately delicate or bombastic sense of space and atmosphere, creating a convincing soundstage for each individual scene. Effects and speech are spread directionally when called for, and transitions between speakers are smooth. Action scenes are the most noteworthy, with sharp gunshots that ricochet around the room and hard hitting punches -- though bullets don't quite carry the kick that similar action films feature. Dynamic range is distortion free with crisp highs and deep low frequencies.
Immersive and exciting, the track knows when to show restraint and when not to, bolstering the film's gritty tone and stylized violence.
'A Company Man' is a familiar and predictable crime thriller, but its slight twist on the genre is fun, and strong direction, performances, and action end up making the effort worthwhile. The video transfer and audio mix are both strong, giving audiences a moody and exciting experience. Supplements are pretty lackluster, however, with only a very brief featurette and trailer included. The flick definitely has flaws, but fans of similar efforts, especially admirers of John Woo, should give it a chance.