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Original Title:
Superman ieotdeon sanai

South Korea 2008

Drama, Comedy

Jeong Yoon-Chul

Hwang Jeong-min
Jun Ji-hyun
Jin Ji-hee
Seon Woo-seon
Seo Young-hwa

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A Man who was Superman

Story: Song Soo-jung (Jun Ji-hyun) works for a TV production company that has specialized on kitschy emotional documentary reports about people of our society. She is sick of her job and wants to quit. However, that's just when her camera is stolen in broad daylight and a mysterious stranger (Hwang Jeong-min) returns it to her. Moreover, he saves her from an approaching truck. It turns out that the hero thinks that he is Superman. Because a villian implanted kryptonite in his head he can't use his superpowers anymore. Yet, this is no reason for the hero not to help people within the range of his possibilities. Soo-jung is fascinated by the story of the man and henceforth accompanies him as he does his good deeds. "Superman" hopes that he can weaken the kryptonite by doing good deeds to that extent that it will leave his body one day on its own. But the epileptic seizures don't make life easy for him. Soo-jung decides to uncover the true identity of this man.

Review: The premise of "A Man who was Superman" is quite interesting and promises to deliver a nice tragic comedy. Moreover, there are two well-known faces in shape of Jun Ji-hyun ("My Sassy Girl", "Blood: The Last Vampire") and Hwang Jeong-min ("Happiness", "You are my Sunshine") to be found in the film, who should actually be capable of delivering quality cinema. Director Jeong Yoon-chul doesn't succeed in building on the success of his hit "Marathon", though, as it was already the case with "Skeletons in the Closet". Mostly that's because his newest film can't make use of its actual inherent strength. The tragedy and drama that go hand in hand with the main character's portrayal is never really shown to advantage. The first hour of the movie we actually are aware of where the director wants to go, but he never truely succeeds in pushing the right buttons. The mix of drama and comedy never works out the way it should and until the last third the movie simply passes by without arousing any true interest. The emotional ending comes a bit too late and can only make up for the rest to a limited degree.

Hwang Jeong-min plays the guy in a Hawaii-shirt who believes to be Superman. Solely his portrayal of the naive, gentle and slightly retarded appearing man is the reason why the viewer doesn't completely lose interest in the events as the movie progresses. Hwang is an excellent actor who manages to bestow some nice peculiarities on his character, e.g. his dance of joy or the light in his eyes when he can help someone. Jun Ji-hyun on the other hand takes on a meaningless supporting role that can be called solid at best. Seemingly, the script writers wanted to give her some character flaws, but they never really come across. For example she is supposed to be someone who smokes like a chimney, but apparently Jun had so much problems with this, being a non-smoker, that she may have a cigarette in her hand at times, but never really smokes one. That looks rather cheap.

Even worse is the fact that the chemistry between Soo-jung and Superman isn't right. What interest does the reporter have in the supposed superhero? Furthermore, her colleagues talk about her having undergone a change at the end of the film, but the viewer didn't witness that. That's also the reason why it's irritating that Soo-jung seems to feel so close to the main character later on.
Unfortunately, the story also doesn't progress for quite a while. The movie seems to go nowhere and having lost nearly all of our patience we hope that something might actually happen eventually. Yet, "A Man who was Superman" takes its time. Only a few minor gags can be entertaining. Naturally, they include some allusions to Superman. There is the single greasy lock of hair or the "S" on the chest of the hero, but the different superpowers are also emulated by worldly means so that our hero actually uses them in his own fantasy world. In a small sequence the man without a past talks about his time as a Clark Kent double at a big newspaper or on other occasions he tries to push the world back from the sun by doing a handstand. And that even though we all know that only Chuck Norris is capable of doing that...

The movie often grants a glance into the mind of the protagonist during those scenes and we get to see what "Superman" perceives of the world. At times this hero reminds us of Don Quixote when he fights against windmills resp. villians in shape of dredges etc. That's what makes it easy for us to root for this hero who sees himself as a friend of mankind trying to save the earth. Director Jeong exposes and criticizes the lack of readiness to help others and the prevalent passivity nowadays. However, he by no means does so in a subtle manner, but at times really hams it up. Especially when we get to know more about the past of Hwang's character this becomes very apparent. What couldn't really captivate us at the beginning finally becomes more emotionally involving during the last third. Still, as already said Jeong's approach is quite manipulative, yet it works out better than expected and the drama that unfolds can even move to tears, mostly thanks to Hwang's acting.

At the end you will ask yourself why it had to take so long for the movie to get going. "A Man who was Superman" could have been so much more, but director Jeong conveys his message in a sometimes annoyingly direct way and he also does so too late. The movie's biggest problem, though, is the mix between drama, comedy and fantasy which never really works out. That's why you will be left behind with mixed feelings at the end. As already said, the ending manages to convey the right emotions, but more subtlety and coherence with the rest of the film would have been desirable. Sadly, Jun Ji-hyun also disappoints, only Hwang Jeong-min saves the movie and powerfully shoulders it in emotional respects. Thus, "A Man who was Superman" is a film which doesn't make my job of rating easy. Without the conciliatory ending and Hwang's great performance the score would have been worse, however.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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