Kang Dong-cheol is a former gang member who was once legendary for his powerful fists. But in recent years, he has renounced his lawless past and found a new life with his smart and outspoken wife Ji-soo. They are a close and affectionate couple, though they struggle with debt, and Dong-cheol’s greatest weakness is his susceptibility to questionable get-rich-quick schemes. At the start of the film, another “business opportunity” is offered to Dong-cheol, who is having trouble saying no.
Despite his obvious physical strength, Dong-cheol has a soft heart: he is basically a large teddy bear. But a chance encounter with some very bad people leads to a change in mood. Eventually, the scheming head of a human trafficking operation decides to target Ji-soo. When Dong-cheol learns that his wife has been abducted, a powerful sense of rage that has lain dormant within him for years suddenly erupts.
The runaway success of Train to Busan (2016) and The Outlaws (2017) has turned the actor Ma Dong-seok (a.k.a. Don Lee) into practically his own industry. In 2018 alone he was the leading actor in five films: arm wrestling drama Champion, crime drama Wonderful Ghost, blockbuster Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days, thriller The Neighbors, and now Unstoppable. Among that group, the most entertaining and dramatically satisfying by far is this action film by debut director Kim Min-ho. Although comparisons to Liam Neeson’s Taken series are inevitable, Unstoppable spends more time developing its characters, and features a different mix of action vs. emotion.
The Korean title of this movie is “Raging Bull,” and that adequately describes the style of fighting we get here: powerful, compact blows that accomplish their objective in a single swing or two. It’s a perfect vehicle for Ma Dong-seok: not quite as dark and vicious as the action in The Outlaws, but with something of the heart he shows in Train to Busan. Director Kim shows a good instinct for pacing, giving the story time to develop before kicking into motion. In this case, the contrast between the jokey humor and character building of the early scenes make the later action set pieces feel more dynamic.
The film also benefits greatly from the casting of its second lead. Song Ji-hyo has created a very distinctive screen and TV persona since her debut in the horror film Whispering Corridors 3: Wishing Stairs back in 2003. More than anything, her eyes project a fierce intelligence that gives an edge to any character she plays. This quality prevents her from coming across as a typical damsel in distress, and makes Unstoppable feel less like the story of a man trying to rescue his wife, and more like two members of a strong partnership struggling to get back together.
In the end, Unstoppable is exactly what it promises to be: entertaining, kinetic, with a bit of humor and large doses of sentiment. It doesn’t break any new ground, or invert any genre conventions, but the end result is no less satisfying. In a year when Ma Dong-seok seemed in danger of spreading himself too thin, and appearing in too many weakly-constructed dramas, he has redeemed himself in this fun showcase of his considerable talent.