Director Kim Min-ho makes his directorial debut with Unstoppable (2018), a kidnap thriller that is like an everyman version of Taken (2008). Korean cinema excels at these types of gritty thrillers and although Unstoppable may not be the best example of its type, it still makes for an enjoyable two hours.
The imposing Ma Dong-seok stars as Dong Chul, an ex-gangster who has gone straight for the sake of his wife Ji-Soo (Song Ji-Hyo). Working at a local fish market, Dong Chul is always struggling to make ends meet. This is in part to the market being run by a shady gangster who does not like paying those who work for him. The other problem is Dong Chul is forever getting involved in money making scams, none of which end in his favour.
His latest is enough for his wife to leave him sitting alone in a restaurant. Unfortunately for her, she is kidnapped by a group of sadistic criminals that she and Dong Chul came into contact with earlier. With the police seemingly unwilling to help, Dong Chul has no choice but to revert to his old violent ways and get his wife back himself.
Kim Min-ho keeps the film moving along at a good pace, but does not do enough stylistically behind the camera to set him apart from other upcoming filmmakers. He does get good performances from his cast and handles the action with enough skill, with Dong Chul shown to be a force to be reckoned with.
Considering the amount of fighting, the action is surprisingly subdued, with very little bloodletting. It is unclear if this was Min-ho’s choice or something that was imposed upon him by the production company.
Additionally, there is a tonal inconsistency, with a great deal of the film being played for laughs. This especially comes into play when Dong Chul and his friend employ a private detective, played by Kim Min-jae.
To be honest, these turned out to be my favourite parts of the film. To the uninitiated they may appear jarring, especially when the film includes themes alluding to rape, organ harvesting and human trafficking, but they liven the film up no-end. Perhaps it is my years of watching Hong Kong cinema, where this type of schizophrenic movie making is the norm, which has made me immune to these changes in tone.
Lead performer Ma Dong-seok has been gradually working his way up the ranks of the Korean film industry. Playing memorable supporting roles in the likes of The Unjust (2010) and Kundo: Age of the Rampant (2014), it was not until his career changing turn in cult favourite Train to Busan (2016) that audiences began to take a major interest in the actor.
This led to him finally being cast in leading roles, with crime thriller The Outlaws (2017) and The Bros (2017) being definite standouts. Considering his burly frame, it was only a matter of time that Dong-seok was given his own action movie, with Unstoppable tailor made for him.
As to be expected, Dong-seok is excellent, getting a chance to show both his acting and physical skills. His Dong Chul is a loveable rogue, who is not exactly the smartest tack in the box. He mostly stumbles his way through the film with him usually resorting to violence when all else fails.
Dong-seok’s fight scenes lack any sense of style or finesse, with him just using brute force against his opponents. This is entirely fitting with his character, although this causes most of the fight scenes to be cut short, other than the finale, where any sense of reality is put aside.
There is an especially memorable scene during the finale when Dong-seok goes up against a super kicking henchman, with him flipping and kicking like he just came from a 1980’s Hong Kong action movie. The only drawback of the scene is how quick Dong-seok dispatches him.
The supporting cast all do good work, although some are underutilised. Ji-Hyo Song as the kidnapped Ji-Soo has the most thankless role, with her being more of a plot point than character. She is giving more to do towards the finale where she shows some strength of her own and stands up to her captors.
Seong-oh Kim as the film’s villain essentially plays the same character he played in Man from Nowhere (2010). He is suitably evil and sleazy, but does not exactly stretch himself. As mentioned Min-jae Kim injects a good deal of humour into the film and is one of the most memorable of the supporting cast.
Unstoppable will never win any awards for originality and there is a great deal of better known Korean action thrillers out there. Still if you are looking for an unassuming quick action fix, you could do a lot worse.
Written by Guest Reviewer: Darren Murray (Facebook Profile)