In the month of November 2018, the box-office juggernaut that is Ma Dong-seok had two films featuring him in the leading role in Korean cinemas. Both the films went on to score a high number of admissions at the box-office combined but the more successful of the two was clearly director Kim Min-ho’s “Unstoppable”.
Dong-chul is a polite, meek fishmonger who tries to hit the big time with various business opportunities that eventually go bust, losing a lot of money on the way for Dong-chul, much to the annoyance of his beautiful wife Ji-soo. One evening, while trying to convince her that a new opportunity in the fishing industry with the supply of King Crabs is the one that will finally click for them, Dong-chul’s car is rear-ended by that of Gi-tae, a human trafficker who deals exclusively in Korean women and for whom money can get you everything. While the calm Dong-chul politely tries to calm the situation down, the feisty Ji-soo gets heated up, catching Gi-tae’s eye. When Dong-chul comes home the next day, he finds Ji-soo missing and suspects she’s been kidnapped, a suspicion that is confirmed when he receives a bag full of money from Gi-tae in exchange for the “purchase” of Ji-soo. What Gi-tae doesn’t know though, is that Dong-chul has a particular set of skills; skills that make him a nightmare for men like Gi-tae. Dong-chul, you see, used to be a top gangster now living the quiet life on the insistence of his doting wife, but he is about to make Gi-tae’s life hell and turn his operation upside down and inside out.
It has been said about “Unstoppable” that it plays like a Korean version of “Taken”, and that viewpoint is not entirely wrong. It does, after all, feature an ex-hardman gone the family way having a loved family member kidnapped and doing everything in his powers to get them back. In fact, this is a storyline that has been done to death in various film industries with minor difference to mixed results, but “Unstoppable” succeeds in standing tall as a film of its own. Kim Min-ho’s own script is focused, funny and thrilling at the same time.
Technically, it is a superior film as well, with the action choreography, which plays to Ma Dong-seok’s strengths understandably, standing out. His punches could make a grown man wince. Yes, it might wander into the unbelievable territory here and there, but Ma Dong-seok makes you believe he is fully capable of such superhuman feats as making the walls and furniture in a different room rattle as he nets out his punishment to a henchmen elsewhere.
Yes, there is a fear that he might be getting typecast with these kind of roles, but Ma Dong-seok makes each role his own. His charm, wit and indeed his strength all work in his favour, making the audience yearn for more. He is equally convincing here as the meek fisherman, the loved up husband and the hardman who can slap the life back in a man on the brink of death.
A lot of the times, with films that feature larger-than-life actors in equally larger-than-life roles, the supporting cast doesn’t get to do a lot apart from fill the screen until the lead comes in, but that certainly cannot be said for this film. In fact, as good as Ma Dong-seok is, Kim Sung-oh matches him step-to-step as the psychotic, unhinged Gi-tae. An actor who is mostly cast in small, negligible supporting roles, he is a delight to watch having so much fun with the role. Song Ji-hyo as Ji-soo is well-suited as Dong-chul’s equal and partner-in-life. She may be the damsel in distress, but she is not going to just sit around for her knight to come rescue her. Park Ji-hwan and Kim Min-jae provide the comic value as Choon-sik, Dong-chul’s best friend and the “fixer” from their gangster days President Bear respectively.
“Unstoppable” may not break new grounds for the genre, but it is still a vastly enjoyable experience, chiefly due to its larger-than-life leading man in a film that is well-suited to the “Ma Dong-seok genre” as well as the fiendishly fun Kim Sung-oh.