December 21, 2014

Commitment: Boy Band Boy Is the Man

What's the most effective way for a K-pop singer to be taken seriously as a movie star? Follow the example set by Choi Seung-hyun, a.k.a. rapper T.O.P. from the Korean boy band Big Bang. Here, in director Park Hong-soo's espionage thriller Commitment, Choi has winningly taken on the role of Ri Myung-hoon, a North Korean assassin who's been so indoctrinated into the cause that he can barely register emotion on his face. From the outside at least, he's a killing machine. Bullied at high school? No reaction. Stabbed in the side? Not even a wince. Killing someone? Closed lips. At most, a glare. Admittedly, there's one scene in which Ri breaks down and cries -- his two sisters, one blood (Kim Yoo-jeong), one not (Han Ye-ri) -- have both been kidnapped, after all. But soon enough, this teen assassin is back to serving up stoic face. And you know what? It works.

Haven't we seen enough tongue-in-cheek James Bonds and Jason Bournes, enough smirking Bruce Willis anti-heroes and improbably cheerful Jackie Chan clowns. Choi's cold, merciless, unfeeling take on the spy abroad gives more by giving us so much less. It also makes the fights scenes -- of which there are many -- more intense. When the good guy doesn't have time to weak or make a wisecrack, you know that the martial arts action is taking his utmost attention. It's all about your level of commitment.

But then the South Koreans have always taken the North Koreans seriously, whether it's as estranged friends (J.S.A.: Joint Security Area) or respectable foes (The Berlin Files). Only the Americans have insisted that the North Koreans were bumbling idiots, most notably in the Seth Rogen/James Franco misfire of a frat boy comedy, The Interview. And we saw where that arrogance landed them. North Korea may be off the grid (and even off its rocker) but that doesn't mean they're incapable or incompetent or impotent. And now Hollywood knows that too. Might I recommend a few documentaries?

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