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Original Title:
Pagwidwin Sanai

South Korea 2010

Thriller, Drama

Woo Min-ho

Kim Myung-min
Uhm Ki-joon
Park Joo-mi
Lee Byeong-joon
Kim So-hyeon
Lee Ho-jae

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Man of Vendetta

Story: The pastor Joo Yeong-soo (Kim Myung-min) has to pay a huge ransom to his daughter's kidnapper (Uhm Ki-joon). However, despite the fact that the kidnapper told him not to, Joo brings the police into the picture, the handover goes wrong and the pastor doesn't get to see his daughter again.
Eight years pass and even though Joo is convinced that his daughter is dead, his ex-wife Min-kyeong (Park Joo-mi) still desperately looks for their joint daughter. In the meantime, Joo has turned away from god and tries to make ends meet as a rundown businessman. His ex-wife on the other hand keeps forwarding cases about missing children to the investigator Koo (Lee Byeong-joon), but there never seems to be any kind of connection between the disappearance of her own child and these new cases. On day, though, Joo gets a call from the kidnapper. His daughter is still alive and he can get her back in exchange for a huge ransom. Unfortunately, Joo has serious problems getting hold of the money. But this time he doesn't want to make the same mistake as last time, he leaves the police out of it and instead makes his own investigations.

Review: Somehow you inevitably have to be reminded of Park Chan-wook's revenge-trilogy when reading about the story of "Man of Vendetta". For that reason the movie turns out to be particularly disappointing. The biggest problem with Woo Min-ho's directing debut is the unelaborate story, which doesn't seem to know where to put its focus on. Obviously not on the motive of revenge and that's where the international title is rather misleading, as the Korean title "A Destroyed Man" would have been a better match in this case. Woo's thriller is about pastor Joo and how he deals with his guilt or rather how far he would go to get is daughter back. Especially the leisurely pace at the beginning reveals that this movie actually seems to be more of a character drama in which pastor Joo loses his faith and becomes a destroyed man. But to be able to convince in this field, the movie just lacks credibility and character drawing.

Kim Myung-min ("Return", "Beethoven Virus") is without a doubt an outstanding actor, even if this might as well just be because of his diligence, since he always thoroughly prepares himself for his roles. In "Man of Vendetta" there are some regular outbursts, as far as acting is concerned, which can most certainly convince us that he knows his stuff, but nevertheless his character stays rather flat. The script misses giving us an understanding for this tortured soul and therefore the viewer's emotional participation in his decision is kept to a minimum. The same problems arise, when it comes to the other characters; even though they occasionally manage to gain more sympathy for themselves than Joo can. Joo's ex-wife, who basically functions as some sort of tool for the script, and the investigator Koo manage to show more color in those few scenes they have than Joo, despite the fact that they are portrayed more or less two-dimensional. But let's turn to the killer who poses the biggest problem.

However, possibly the problem with this character is only a subjective one. Since he's just a monster. Somehow, there is no motive. Being evil just for the sake of being evil? It might be okay that the killer kidnapps children, demands a ransom and then kills them anyway. There are parallels to the gruesome reality, but that's not where the killer draws the line. One could assume that somebody who managed not to get caught for years would also display some sort of criminal intelligence. But not this killer, no. His impulsive actions like murdering in broad daylight, although admittedly at a somewhat remote place, make it almost impossible to believe that he managed to stay out of prison for this long. In addition, the script often portrays him exaggeratedly evil when it comes to Joo's daughter. At least they thought of a pretty good reason for the murderer to let the girl stay alive for this long.

Unfortunately, the thriller lacks a comprehensible structure as well. At the beginning, Joo's new living conditions are shown and his character is presented more closely. At least that's what this part of the movie was supposed to function as. Sadly, the director spends a lot of time on this person's illumination, without really presenting a sophisticated character to the viewer at all. Therefore, indifference makes itself at home. Then after a while, we unexpectedly get a closer look at the killer's life, only to discover that we are not really getting to know anything extraordinarily new, for that matter. In fact, the characters are lacking in depth, depth that is vital for a thriller like this. Then again, towards the end of the movie, there is a bit more nerve-wracking going on, but given the circumstances, it just seems beyond anybody's understanding why Joo wouldn't get the police's help. But then "Man of Vendetta" turns out to be pretty illogical in a lot of ways.

Apparently, in Korea there seems to exist some sort of manual about how to visually shoot a thriller. As a result, technically speaking, it is almost impossible to tell a good thriller from a bad one. "Man of Vendetta" is substantial but shows weaknesses in areas where a thriller shouldn't have any - the script. The characters are stiff wooden dolls, lacking life and credibility and the motive of a man who hit rock bottom, is not consistently carried out during the movie. And for that matter, thrillers are allowed to be shorter than two hours and expecially "Man of Vendetta" would have profited from that. Side-motives such as, guilt and atonement, which would have fit into the movie perfectly because of its Christian background, are hardly dealt with, which once more shows the movie's weaknesses. The ending itself does offer a suprising emotional moment - because of one simple question that gets raised - but you would need far too much good will to give the movie more than an "average" as an overall score just for that.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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