New for me
I got A Man Who Was Superman for free and only later realized that it was one of Jung Yoonchul's follow ups to Marathon, a film that surprised me by turning out to be pretty decent. I wasn't fully sold on the premise and I felt that A Man Who Was Superman suffered from a wandering narrative for the first two thirds of the film, only finding itself in the final act, which manages to lift the movie up a bit. However, the film is also a bit uneven in performances too and the result is certainly a mixed bag.
In AMWWS, Song Soojung (Gianna Jun) is a human interest reporter with a personal disdain for the stories about quirky mental cases that she's specialized in for the last three years. Finally having had enough, she quits, taking a nice camera as her severance, but it gets stolen from her. In her pursuit of the thief, she encounters the titular Superman (Hwang Jungmin), a man who has clearly lost a little touch with reality, running around the streets of Seoul, randomly helping people, which now includes retrieving Soojung's camera. Her journalistic instincts lead her to follow him in curiosity. As Soojung returns to her work, following around Superman, she starts finding his insistence on helping people more personally interesting than the quirky people she's previously documented, but the past that Superman tried to escape begins to catch up with him.
There are some noticeable issues with storytelling in the first couple acts of the film, resulting in a film that's rather flat, with little conflict or drive, seemingly stringing together a bunch of scenes as we, and Soojung, watch the Superman do his thing and while it's supposedly showing Soojung developing a fondness for Superman, there doesn't seem to be any real reason for her to have a change of heart. When we finally start lumbering towards the conclusion, however, the digging into Superman's real identity and backstory, followed by some of the final decisions he makes is compelling, but this does feel more like a short story that got extended into a feature film, with so little actually happening in the plot for much of its running time.
The film dabbles in giving us Superman's perspective by presenting a few heroic scenes from his flights of fancy, but I found this to be confusing and unnecessary, although the full on imagination of the Daily Planet was amusing. Aside from those moments, Director Jung keeps his eye on the reality of his characters and even if the storytelling is rather loose, he does give plenty of attention to his principal actors, although more to Superman. Which makes sense, given Hwang's dramatic, but still human performance, really capturing in his face some of the backstory that drove Superman to become what he is. On the other hand, while the narrative really needed to give Soojung more attention, Jun's performance was a bit lacking, never quite seeming more than tired, rather than cynical and being unable to carry the sense that her perspective on Superman is changing, only really sparking during the aforementioned brief imaginary sequence when playing Lois Lane.
But for all my problems with Jun and simply finding the film unfocused, once the dramatic gears start turning, the film had me in its grasp, developing quite a genuinely surprising hero story near the end. I think if the Superman's story was better built into the film and if Soojung's story (and Jun's acting) were more compelling, A Man Who Was Superman would easily have been as winning as Jung's Marathon. As it is, it's a film that lumbers at the start before finding itself and finishing strong. And, for the strong finish, I still thought it was an enjoyable character piece, but I can't recommend wholeheartedly as it simply takes too long to pick up and become interesting. 7/10.