Unstoppable (2018)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 12/03/18 04:55:17

"A pretty good throwback to basic "(STAR'S NAME) is (FILM TITLE)" action."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Ma Dong-seok is being billed as "Don Lee" for the American release of "Unstoppable , which isn't inaccurate - his given name is actually Lee Dong-seok - but it does make one wonder if he's looking to take some roles outside of South Korea while his profile is high from "Train to Busan", "Along with the Gods", and "Champion". Hollywood would certainly be lucky to have him if so; this B-movie likely wouldn't be half as much fun without this particular big guy in the lead.

He plays Kang Dong-chul, who runs a small service delivering fish at the Incheon market with buddy Choon-sik (Park Ji-hwan), always running short on money because he gets drawn to bad investments, the latest being king crabs, frustrating his wife Ji-soo (Song Ji-hyo), though never for long. She's the one who gets in an argument when they're rear-ended by gangster Ki-tae (Kim Sung-oh) and is kidnapped a few days later, but things don't go down as usual then: Ki-tae gives Dong-chul enough money that the police look at him strange when he goes to report the crime. Fortunately, Choon-sik knows "Bear" Gomsajang (Kim Min-jae), a private eye familiar with the underworld, and on top of that… Well, Dong-chul and Choon-sik weren't always fishmongers, with Dong-chul an infamous brawler before he met Ji-soo.

Folks who aren't familiar with Ma Dong-seok should probably just go watch Train to Busan right now, but he's basically like if a burly 1980s action hero like Sylvester Stallone was also effortlessly charming - not quite a Korean Dwayne Johnson (who tends to be more self-aware where his charisma is concerned), but a guy who can be soft-spoken and kind of intimidated by his wife but also just an absolute force when someone tries to come at him physically. He shines as an everyman and a big teddy bear in the opening scenes and a guy frantically worried about his wife later, but sells the fights pretty well, with Dong-chul not enjoying them but kind of rolling his eyes that these guys are trying to knock him around, something that also works when he's playing the straight man to Bear and Choon-sik stumbling into trouble.

He's surrounded by a pretty good cast, too - Song Ji-hyo is just tart enough as Ji-soo to offset Dong-chul's sweetness, and Park Ji-hwan makes a good partner for both Ma and Kim Man-jae, who himself is able to make Bear the right sort of slippery to stumble through something comedic and also make a good private eye. There are also a bunch of solid but smaller performances that keep things interesting as Dong-chul and the audience follow a trail to Kim-tae. The end of that trail is where the audience finds Kim Sung-oh, who is clearly having the most fun being there as the villain, getting occasional laughs as the smart gangster frustrated by the incompetence of his underlings without ever having that diminish the sadistic streak underneath. The plot revolves around Kim-tae's vindictiveness, in that if he'd let the fact that Ji-soo yelled at him go he wouldn't be dealing with her husband pounding his way to the door, and he plays that arrogance being his fatal flaw in big, entertaining fashion.

Writer/director Kim Min-ho knows what he's working with here, and manages to fit a determined vigilante tale together with crowd-pleasing entertainment better than many do. That Dong-chul will be unstoppable (or, to use the Korean title, an "angry bull") is not really in doubt, so he lets enough comedy into the action scenes that one can really enjoy Dong-chul just tossing bullies used to picking on smaller people around on the way to the spots which really seem challenging, and there's a weird sort of relatability in the climax: Dong-chul really doesn't know what he's supposed to do in a car chase other than not let Ki-tae get away, and the result is kind of desperate and fumbling even before getting into "sure, why not?" territory.

Stuff like that makes "Unstoppable" a lot more entertaining than this sort of basic action movie with the generic name has much right to be, and even then it might not have worked without Ma Dong-seok/Don Lee in the center. It's a fun couple hours of stuff most viewers have seen before because of the very appealing cast.

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