J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Unstoppable: Don Lee Throws Down

If you want to gage Korean public opinion with respect to the financial services industry, the institutionalized loan-sharking depicted in films like Pieta  and For the Emperor should make matters sufficiently clear. Ki-tae’s sleazy outfit takes predatory lending to a new low. His real business is trafficking women, many of whom were forced to serve as a prostitutes and mail-order brides to pay off their bad debts. He also kidnaps victims the old school way. His latest victim is Kang Dong-chul’s wife Ji-soo. That was a really bad decision. Kang will administer as many beatdowns as it takes to get her back in Kim Min-ho’s Unstoppable (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Ki-tae is a really sick jerk. His preferred M.O. is to abduct a pretty woman and then convince her husband or family to accept a sizable cash payment in exchange for her. However, Kang is not playing that game. He cannot be bought and he is darned difficult to stop. There is a reason Kang was known as the “Bull” during his murky early years. Seriously, Ki-tae would have been better off abducting Liam Neeson’s wife.

With the help of his fish-mongering partner Choon-sik and Gomsajang, an eccentric private investigator, Kang starts closing in on Ki-tae’s accomplices. When he lets his fists ask the questions, they get pretty talkative—and that is basically the gist of the movie. It is uncomplicated, but effective, much like Kang himself.

For obvious reasons, Unstoppable is a perfect star vehicle for the super-busy Don Lee (Ma Dong-seok. He can be cherubically sweet in his early domestic scenes and then slam it down with authority in the action sequences. In terms of chops, size, and charisma, he is one of the few action stars who rivals Schwarzenegger in his prime.

On the other hand, Kim Seong-oh’s Ki-tae could be the most despicable villain of the year—and maybe also the most flamboyant. He came to play, that’s for sure. Alas, Kim Min-jae and Park Ji-hwan are pretty shtcky as Gomsajang and Choon-sik, respectively, but Lee helps keep them in check. He also develops some appealing chemistry with Song Ji-hyo, playing Ji-soo.

It is hard to see the Don Lee express slowing down anytime soon, because he clearly has the moves and presence to carry a crowd-pleaser like Unstoppable. It is an unfussy but undeniably satisfying film. Arguably, it is exactly the sort of old school, good vs. evil, scruffy underdog street-fighting film genre devotees crave. Recommended for fans of Lee and red meat action, Unstoppable opens this Friday (11/30) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

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