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A Man Who Was Superman
A Man Who Was Superman

Jeon Ji-Hyun and Hwang Jung-Min in A Man Who Was Superman.
Korean: 슈퍼맨이었던 사나이
Year: 2008  
Director: Jeong Yoon-Chul  

Jeong Yoon-Chul, Yoon Jin-Ho


Hwang Jung-Min, Jeon Ji-Hyun, Woo Gi-Hong, Jin Ji-Hee, Do Yong-Goo, Seong Woo-Seon, Seo Young-Hwa, Kim Jae-Rok, Choi Woo-Hyuk, Jo Hee-Bong

  The Skinny: An interesting concept makes for an interesting eccentric comedy for the first half, but writer-director Jeong Yoon-chul sticks too close to the traditional melodrama formula to make A Man Who Was Superman an enjoyable experience.
Kevin Ma:
Many see Jeong Yoon-Chul's A Man Who Was Superman as a make-it-or-break-it film for the Sassy Girl herself Jeon Ji-Hyun. Despite her upcoming Hollywood debut, the actress has been struggling to find a hit film in Korea that doesn't involve her playing the same character over and over again (Windstruck may have been a commercial success, but it was a critical dud with horrible word-of-mouth). To put that kind of pressure on the actress is a little unfair, as she's actually the far less glamorous straight character in the film, and is given little opportunity to stand out. Actually, the one under pressure should be writer-director Jeong, who is still trying to find a follow-up that would match the success of his mega-hit tearjerker Marathon after his previous film Shim's Family crashed and burned at the box office last March.

Instead, like the supposed responsibility of his character, the film is almost entirely placed on the shoulders of award-winning actor Hwang Jung-Min as a man who thinks he is Superman. Claiming that he lost his super powers because of a piece of Kryptonite in his brain, he still runs around Seoul helping people on the street while also trying to raise environmental awareness. One day, his actions are captured on tape and shown to human interest reality show producer Soo-Jeong (Jeon).

Soo-Jeong is one pissed off lady; she's tired of doing sappy human interest shows (ironically, the narrator she hates is featured throughout the film for her own story), her boyfriend is away in Mongolia working as a volunteer, and she's about to quit her job to go to Africa. But when her expensive video camera is stolen on the streets, she is coincidentally helped by Superman. After seeing him in action, Soo-Jeong finally finds his story compelling enough to be documentary-worthy. Through the filming process, she begins to warm to this half-crazy, half-admirable Good Samaritan.

However, anyone who's seen a Korean film would know where this is going. A Man Who Was Superman possesses a very familiar Korean film structure: quirky light comedy in the first half, then overbearing tragic drama in the second. After about 50 minutes of eccentric humor about Superman, all of his dirty secrets come pouring out, and IT ALL GOES TO HELL™. The story does go in a convincing and natural direction in terms of delivering what Jeong wants to say, especially when there wouldn't be a movie if the truth about Superman didn't come out. However, the problem with Jeong's choice is that the truth(s) is delivered in such a heavy-handed way that it betrays the tone established in the first half.

What Jeong fails to do is to fully buy into the magical world he partly sets up in the first half. Jeong shows these seemingly incredible events, only to go back and show us the reality of the situation in almost every case. The director's mindset sticks too close to reality, and he programs the viewers to be taken out of magic immediately when it happens. As a result, there's no surprise by the ending of the film. We know that whenever Jeong shows us some kind of miracle, the tragic real version of it is already waiting for us on the other side. It's convincing and logical, but it doesn't make for a very pleasant experience, especially in a movie with imaginary superheroes. Then again, this formula has been used so often in similar types of "comedies with a message" that giving a story too much emotional gravitas to enhance emotional resonance has become the safe thing to do for filmmakers.

Fortunately, Jeong has Hwang Jung-Min to make up for it. Here, he has to tackle the difficult role of Superman, which requires a heavy mix of heroism and unfounded paranoia. It's a very physical performance with various changes throughout, and Hwang handles it superbly. He's easily the best thing about the film, and ultimately becomes a major reason to keep watching during the second half. On the other hand, Jeon's performance may be bland when compared to Hwang's, but none of the fault should go to her. She plays the straight character here with little chance to stretch, but holds up the film well as the central character. As the most adult character she has ever taken on, this is also easily her most mature performance yet. The most disappointing entertainer out of the three here is director Jeong, who has ironically made the sappy, human interest tearjerker that his main character despises throughout. In the end, it's not the Jeon Ji-Hyun character that needs to buy into the Superman myth; it's the man who created the myth that needs it the most. (Kevin Ma, 2008)


DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
CJ Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Various Extras

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