He spent two bullets on eleven men. He saved your tax money!
Recently I reviewed a South Korean movie called “Train to Busan”, and it was surprisingly half decent considering it is a zombie film, a genre done to death in recent years. It was my first glimpse into South Korean film and I decided that if I were to get another opportunity then I would jump on it, and that’s what happened when I was browsing Netflix and found “Man on High Heels”.
For those that haven’t read the site before, I am transgender, and I am automatically intrigued by films about people with gender dysphoria, albeit I won’t just watch a film simply because of that. The film has to offer something that I haven’t seen before and this achieves that relatively well, as I’m never seen a film about a man that wants to be a woman but could comfortably kick your arse if he wanted to.
This does however give me a little trepidation when it comes to this as it does look like one of those typical films in which the protagonist breaks arms without breaking into a sweat. You know what I mean? Those characters who, despite the number and/or size of the enemy, you never doubt they’re going to win, therefore taking any real sense of tension out of the scene….think the majority of the Marvel franchise.
But anyway, we’ll see.
Unfeasibly good cop Yoon Ji-Wook (Cha) has decided to quit the police force to finally complete his dream, living as a woman, although hormones are not working as is hoped. Virtually no-one knows about his desire other than close friends and a former lover, mainly because he successfully separates the two aspects of his personality.
Soon, after going out as a woman in public for the first time, Ji-wook is visited by one of two gangster brothers, the Heo’s, but Ji-wook easily defeats Bul (Song) in a fight, and this leads to him placing the man under arrest. Bul eventually brokers a deal that will see his sentence halved if he sells out his brother, Gon (Oh). Gon is unsurprisingly unimpressed with the idea once he finds out, and his gang soon kills the prosecutor responsible for the idea.
Meanwhile, Ji-wook has actually gone to Gon to fund his reassignment surgery, unaware of the connection, but as soon as Gon finds out who Ji-wook is, and more importantly his secret, he decides that killing everyone in Ji-wook’s life is the only way to re-establish dominance in Seoul.
A decent LGBT film?
“Man on High Heels” is certainly one of the more unusual transgender related films that I’ve seen in recent times, and certainly one of those that doesn’t fit the usual mould for films in the LGBT genre, especially given that the character of Ji-wook shows very little signs of femininity when not dressed in female clothing. The best way I could really describe it is if you imagine Neo from the Matrix franchise, and having kicking everyone’s arse, all whilst wearing a dress, that’s the summation of this film.
If you’re going into this film expecting it to be full on LGBT action then you’re going to be disappointed. The character spends around 95% of the film in fully male clothing, with only the odd scene here and there spent in more feminine attire, and whilst the obvious desire to be female is there, you could be forgiven for forgetting the desire to be female for most of the film’s over-two hour run time.
I suppose though that I can personally relate to Ji-wook. I am a male-to-female transsexual and yet I don’t act or dress in an overly feminine manner, and many ways the uncertainty in which the character approaches his feminine side, especially outwardly, reminds me very much of when I initially came out around four and a half years ago. There is one particular scene in an elevator in which Yi-wook realises that others are about to get in to ride down to the ground floor, and she cowers in the corner, facing the wall, because she is afraid of the reactions, which is understandable and very relatable.
Presentation wise I loved “Man on High Heels” and it has that noir style that I find very appealing personally. Visually it is excellent, with great attention to detail given to each scene in order to make it look like the very vibrant city with a dark side that I’m sure Seoul is (I’ve never been there, or anywhere in South Korea…..or even Asia just for the record). In this sense it strikes me as a very similar city to Los Angeles, another place in which noir films are often set.
I do however have two concerns with “Man on High Heels”. The first of which is that the fighting scenes, whilst not plentiful, certainly don’t have a sense of tension to them as Ji-wook never feels like he is under a genuine threat of being beaten by his opponents. Even when it is ten-on-one at the end, you still get the feeling that he could easily defeat them, and it means that there is no real depth to the fighting. There is no real tension there because like a lot of similar fighting films, you feel that you could see this character against a hundred people at once, and they’d still win.
My other issue with it is that whilst I did largely enjoy the film, at times it is hard to follow. I don’t think this is to do with the language barrier as I watched another South Korean film last week and had no issues with that, but for the first hour, other than the odd scene here and there, I didn’t really get into the story and found it a bit hard to follow at times.
“Man on High Heels” is a largely enjoyable film for what it is, but unfortunately it does lack of a bit of depth by not really having any tension in the fights, and more importantly, a story that at times is a little tricky to follow.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I disliked the film, far from it infact, but I couldn’t give it the approved stamp in all good conscience as, whilst enjoyable, I wouldn’t really recommend it to others, and I think that is a big part for me.
Certainly don’t avoid if you get a chance to watch it, but don’t expect brilliant either.