Only one month after its original Korean theater release, espionage thriller “Commitment” opens today in American theaters. Starring Kpop mega-sensation Choi Seung-hyun (T.O.P.) in his first leading role, “Commitment” is also the directorial debut of emerging film maker Park Hong-soo. While the film makes no great artistic or intellectual contribution, it is solid, well-made, attractive entertainment with a good cast and some fun action.
Choi plays Ri Myung-hoon, a North Korean teenager caught in a power struggle between rival Northern spy cells on the eve of Kim Jong-il’s death. Trained by the callous Moon Sang-chul (Jo Sung-ha) to be an assassin and sent to South Korea to eliminate Moon’s political enemies, young Myung-hoon poses as a high school student and befriends a lonely, unhappy student (Han Ye-ri). While completing his mission for the sake of freeing his imprisoned younger sister (Kim You-jung), Myung-hoon soon finds himself trapped in a deadly game of North/South intrigue and fighting to save the lives of the people he loves.
This straightforward Korean espionage plot unfolds smoothly thanks to screenwriter Kim Soo-yeong (“Vampire Cop Ricky”, “Color of Woman”) and has a heavy focus on loneliness and the importance of human connection. Good photography and editing enhance the sad, steel gray atmosphere. Choi evokes much sympathy as an isolated teen and reluctant assassin whose friendship with women, including the excellent Lee Joo-shil as a nurturing “granny” spy, is tender and sentimental. Roughening the edges of this sentimentality are talented veteran actors Jo Sung-ha and Yoon Je-Moon, who plays it straight here as a sympathetic NIS agent.
A good balance is achieved between sensitivity and brutality. Slower emotional scenes are not dragged out ad nauseum and violence is always right around the corner. The mix maintains a very good pace in this typically Korean-length 120-minute film. There is a good amount of fun fist fighting, gunplay and knives but the jump cut editing and absence of graphic injuries decreases emotional connection and avoids painful violence, placing “Commitment” somewhere between PG-13 and R ratings.
On its opening day in Korean theaters “Commitment” breezed to number one at the box office. While this has much to do with Choi Seung-hyun’s incredibly huge fan base, their love for the star and the film is not entirely unfounded. Choi has a very strong onscreen magnetism and, given some time to develop his acting and martial action skills, he has the potential to become a major leading man. And Director Park has come out of the gate with a strong, well-balanced debut feature film. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a long, successful film career for both of them.
“Commitment” opens in theater across the U.S. on December 6th. The film has not been rated by the MPAA. Theaters, tickets and showtimes here.