The original title of the film in South Korea is “Raging Bull,” although a more accurate translation is “Angry Bull.” You can quite know for sure the motive behind the change in the title the change the title had when it arrived in the U.S.
A hint if you don’t know or understand very well at all the motive behind the name change, try to remember a certain boxing-themed film directed by famed movie director Martin Scorsese. It will all make sense when you realize it.
Unstoppable is a film that, as incredible as it may seem, once again puts Ma Dong Seok front and center, in a leading role no less, in a role suited to his physical prowess and acting chops, but it wasn’t always like that, as some of you may know.
He landed several short stint appearances in movies, television series, and even music videos, but it wasn’t until his appearance in the horror zombie flick Train to Busan that he started to gain traction among filmgoers and film critics, so much so that he overshadowed the main character portrayed by Gong Yoo (Ironically, he was who recommended Ma Dong Seok for the role in the first place). It was his breakthrough in both South Korea and internationally, not bad considering that he was Gong Yoo’s personal trainer and bodyguard.
His character’s performance in Train to Busan typecast him into the gruff, tough, no-nonsense persona, who has…, wait for it, a heart of gold! Who knew!? and after that, he basically started sticking to that exact archetype from that point forward, that it started to become rather stale, and he has received a lot of flat very recently.
Not all of the fault has to do with Unstoppable mind you, but because the movie highlighted some issues that will be brought up in detail the more you get into the review.
The synopsis for Unstoppable is the following:
Dong-Chul (Ma Dong Seok) has had a past that he would like to remain in, the past, but inevitably the past and the present will end up colliding and generating all kinds of unthinkable actions that Dong-Chul would never have imagined having to resort to again, only to save the love of his life, the beautiful and innocent Ji-Soo (Song Ji Hyo).
Dong-Chul will do everything possible to save her along with the help of a special force that he has gathered to help him in his mission to find the criminal organization that kidnapped his wife led by an unknown individual (Kim Sung Oh).
Unstoppable is Kim Min Ho’s feature film debut if there’s one thing you can say it’s that he’s a capable and competent director. The pacing is good, it flows naturally, from scene to scene, the first act establishes the motivations and personalities of all the important and secondary characters, as well as setting the stakes that are going to involve the characters for their struggles and the second act to their final confrontation at the climax and third act.
The acting by everyone involved is outstanding, let’s go straight into our leading man, Ma Dong Seok, he doesn’t have too much range this time around, far away are those days where he started doing bit parts in movies and tv, where he boasted some good acting chops for him to try and develop his screen persona.
Unfortunately, these days he is only interested only in the physical aspect of his performance, and let’s not deny it, is good, but not enough, only a couple of months before he appeared in the exact same role, like this one in another action flick by the title, “The Villagers.”
Ma Dong Seok is a good performer physically and artistically, but he is getting predictable with his acting choices, and there is validity to the claims that he is turning stale. As for the rest of the ensemble, Song Ji Hyo doesn’t have a whole lot to do, she appears over the course of the movie at varying degrees of screen time, and each one is shorter than the one before.
Her character Ji-Soo’s ends up being a typical damsel in distress, she has no agency or inner thoughts to express, but the actress tries her best to stand out her character more and give her some sort of depth and nuanced.
The villain portrayed by Kim Sung Oh is so deliciously evil, he’s hammy and diabolical like a Saturday morning cartoon in the best way possible, and the Kim Sung Oh managed quite the impossible task to give the character some well-needed depth and above all else some charismatic flair. He’s like a dandy sort of Casanova mix up with the Joker. (At one point he even has the trademark purple suit epitomized by the famous trickster of Gotham city)
The pair of allies, portrayed by veterans Kim Min Jae and Park Ji Hwan are the clear standouts of the film, they are both incredibly funny, they both have great chemistry and rapport alongside Ma Dong Seok, on-screen it was like they were the three stooges, doing a comedy routine, and quite like the real three stooges, the comedic timing between Seok, Jae and Hwan was extraordinary.
The comedy and the timing for it was well executed, the gags were exhilaratingly funny. The action set-pieces were stunning, as for the fighting choreography, there wasn’t a whole lot of martial arts prowess, Ma Dong Seok it’s no Jean Claude Van Damme, but his brute force presented as always some interesting bite and seeing him start grabbing and launching several henchmen like ragdolls with ease is astonishing.
The film is not bad by any means, but it has some serious issues, there is a serious tonal dissonance, before I wrote how much the humor and comedy were executed, it wasn’t a bluff, I truly mean it, but the movie wants to have his cake and eat it too, what do I mean by that?
Well, the film tries (keyword) to show the evil deeds of the film’s villain and his henchmen, but his cartoonish portrayal and the not so subtle implication of the villain’s whole operation being to use girls for sex trafficking is terribly ill-suited, tonally wise.
The film is set in PG-13 territory but it tries to commit to a more mature, and the gritty portrayal that tries to balanced totally backfires with the intended humor and comedy the film has.
In the end, a lighthearted action fared you can enjoy easily with a cold beer and have a good laugh at its expense.