When I watched South Korean action thriller film “Remember” at last night, my mind was often more occupied with wondering how old its hero actually is, instead of being engaged in the film itself. As far as I could see from the occasional flashback scenes in the movie, its hero was clearly an adolescent during the 1940s, so he is around 85 at least if we assume that the movie is set around the 2010s, but this old dude does not look that old or weary as going through one action scene after another in the film.
As a matter of fact, the actor playing him, Lee Sung-min, is actually 53 at present, and I guess the movie cannot possibly hide his relatively younger status despite all the makeup on his face. No matter how much he tries to look as frail and aged as possible, Lee still looks as young as, say, Liam Neeson or Keanu Reeves, and that is probably the main reason why I kept trying to guess his character’s real age, just like I did as watching a supporting character played by late Christopher Plummer in Spike Lee’s “Inside Man” (2006)
Speaking of Plummer, the movie is actually a remake of the 2015 Canadian film of the same name where he played an aging dude going after some hidden Nazi criminal. Because the original version was directed by none other than Atom Egoyan, I am sure that it is quite different from the South Korean version, though I somehow missed it when it came out in 2015. After all, it is rather hard to imagine Egoyan going for something equivalent to all those gritty violence and blatant melodrama presented in the South Korean version, isn’t it?
During its opening part, the movie quickly establishes its hero’s current status. Despite being a bit too old to work, he gladly works as a part-time employee at a local TGI Fridays restaurant (Did its manager ever take a look at his identification card?), and we see how close he is to a young fellow employee named In-gyu (Nam Joo-hyuk). When he sees In-gyu being bullied and humiliated by a very rude customer at one point, he remains silent at first, but, what do you know, he already concocts a little clever plan for payback, and In-gyu certainly appreciates that as enjoying that sweet taste of payback along with him.
And then something happens to our old hero. His children notify that his wife, who was incidentally the main reason of his life, is about to die after several years of illness, and he naturally grieves for that a lot as going through her subsequent funeral, but then he embarks on executing something he has secretly planned for many years. As gradually revealed along the plot, there are five certain figures responsible for his family’s painful tragedy during the Japanese Occupation period, and he is quite determined to eliminate them all before his eventual death, though, as his concerned doctor friend points out, he may not succeed at all as he has been suffering the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease.
While his targets are as old as he is, most of them are pretty despicable to say the least as enjoying each own wealth and social prominence without any ounce of remorse. For example, one of them is a retired but very powerful general, and there is a brief scene where he shamelessly justifies what he did during the Japanese Occupation period. As a matter fact, numerous traitorous South Korean people like him were left unpunished in real life even after the end of the World War II just because they quickly allied themselves with the US military, and these vile opportunists and their descendants still have power and wealth around here and there in the South Korean society, while never apologizing for their immense crimes against their country and its people.
Because he needs some assistance for executing his longtime revenge plan, our old hero gives In-gyu an offer he cannot possibly refuse. All In-gyu needs to do in exchange for a considerable amount of cash is driving his old friend to here and there as requested during next several days, and he does not hesitate due to a desperate personal reason of his. He really needs to pay his debt to some local loan shark right now, and his old friend’s offer certainly feels like an opportunity too good to reject.
Of course, like Jamie Foxx’s character in Michael Mann’s “Collateral” (2004), In-gyu soon comes to realize that he gets himself involved into a big trouble, but he lets himself persuaded and pushed by his old friend, who does not stop at all even though his illness gets worse day by day. He surely made some preparation for that in advance, but, not so surprisingly, there eventually comes an inevitable moment when he even cannot remember well where he is going, and that surely puts some extra suspense on the story.
As he and his reluctant accomplice move from one point to another, the movie also pays some attention to several characters on the opposite side. Besides the aforementioned retired general and his hired goons, there is also a detective who comes to sense something fishy about his latest case, and the movie accordingly gives us several action scenes including the one where our old hero attempts to evade two chasing policemen along with In-gyu. Although he is not Jason Bourne or John Wick at all, he turns out to be pretty smart and resourceful despite his increasingly fragile medical condition, and he is certainly indomitable when he is almost close to the final step of his plan later in the story (Is this a spoiler?)
Directed by Lee Il-hyung, “Remember” feels rather disjointed as not only trying to be serious about its main subject but also attempting to be a cathartic action film, and it stumbles more than once especially during the expected climatic finale which is a little too melodramatic in my humble opinion. Yes, I have seen old dudes doing big action scenes on the screen during last several years (Remember how Christopher Lloyd, who is 84 at present, recently had his own brief but juicy fun in “Nobody” (2021)?), but “Remember” made me keep wondering about its hero’s age throughout its 2-hour running time, and that was a big distraction for me to say the least.