Seen in Jeonju

Running Man (2013)

9th June 2013

Running Man– Directed by Jo Dong-oh. Starring Shin Ha-gyun, Lee Min-ho, Kim Sang-ho, Jo Eun-ji and Oh Seong-je. Running Time: 127 minutes. Release Date: April 4, 2013

PK1340521 PK1340511

Cha Jong-woo finds himself in more trouble than he can handle when a mysterious passenger whom had hired him as a driver winds up murdered in the back of Cha’s car-but not before accidently sending an encoded message onto Jong-woo’s phone. Now Cha is on the run from not only the local police, but also secret agents who want the secrets the phone contains and a mysterious assassin who will do anything to ensure that Cha does not get out of this alive. However, Cha has a ragtag collection of allies who believe in his innocence despite the circumstantial evidence that he is a killer. Among the core members of this group are Cha’s troubled teenaged son, Ki-hyeok, a quirky and tenacious reporter whose antics sometimes cause one to question her sanity, and a low-level police officer who has unfortunately lost the respect of the entire precinct. Together they race to try save Cha before he has nowhere left to run and it’s up to Cha to keep alive until then.

I was at first curious about this film because Shin Ha-gyun who plays the lead role of Cha Jong-woo, is one of my favorite actors. However, I have to admit that I never considered him as an action star. I was pleasantly surprised in the first half of the film where he does a credible, albeit a less powerful, version of some early Jackie Chan stunts which were genuinely fun if you can suspend your disbelief regarding the possibility of pulling off such stunts in real life without loss of life. I wish the film had managed to keep the Jackie Chan homage up for the duration of the movie, however the story undergoes a tonal shift and becomes much darker about halfway through the rather long running time. Actually, it becomes darker both figuratively and literally. The turning point is not the death of someone close to Cha at the hands of the ‘Dark Man’ (as actor Jo Woon is credited)—a rather fun escape scene follows at the Seoul World Cup Stadium. Instead it comes after a family member’s life is threatened. However, it becomes more literal as most scenes following this point take place at night. In fact, may major complaint is this point. The last twenty or thirty minutes of this film are so ill lit that It was difficult to tell what was going on and who was present during the action.

While Shin is generally an excellent actor, his character does seem to chew up the scenery a bit in this film and it would have benefited the movie he had shown a little restraint. Even so, he is still enjoyable to watch and I have always felt that he dives whole-heartedly into each role he takes. But how do the other actors fair?

There is Lee Min-ho as Ki-hyeok.. not the Lee Min-ho who starred in Men Over Flowers, this is a younger actor. Lee does a good job with what he is given but, as I mentioned with some of the action scenes, you need to check your disbelief at the door in regards to Ki-hyeok. The writing hurts this character tremendously, saddling him with mother-abandonment issues as an excuse for his dour and disrespectful personality. Prudent editing of that whole subplot, as well as his brutal beating of an underserving classmate that frankly should have landed him in jail would have improved the character immensely and would have served the dual function of whittling down the running time. While 127 minutes may not more than average for a film, I was checking the clock on and off through some of these unnecessary scenes involving the younger Cha wondering when the movie would finish.

Some of the supporting characters were much more interesting. Kim Sang-ho as Officer Ahn gives a solid performance and Jo Woon as the ‘Dark Man’ merely has too look menacing as in most of his movies, but he does that extremely well. However, one of the best characters was the unusual reporter , Park Seon-yeong played by Jo Eun-ji. Jo’s birdlike motions and features add a strange, quirky and sometimes quite uncomfortable feeling to the character. She is someone I loved watching but wouldn’t really want to be associated with in real life as she was too unpredictable and her immaturity sometimes comes across as if she is not playing with a full deck. She does, however, manage to steal most scenes that she is in.

What is my final evaluation of the movie? It is watchable if not particularly memorable. Like I said earlier, I wish it had stuck to the comic action in the style of an early Jackie Chan film instead of trying to get all dark and gritty which unfortunately has made it blur into one of a thousand of shoot-‘em-up action films that I have watched over the decades and it is unlikely I will remember plot details this time next year. Daum web browser has it rated at 8.0 out of 10 while Naver gives it a similar 7.98 from internet users but a 6.4 from film critics and reporters. I would have to agree with the latter and I would rate it about 6 out of ten stars.. but that is mostly because of Shin Ha-gyun’s effort.

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