Ajeossi and Rocky Handsome are two films based on one storyline: a mysterious man running a pawnshop, embarks on a mission when his neighbor’s daughter, a little girl, is kidnapped by a notorious crime syndicate.
The storyline touches on many themes including the fatherly/nurturing bond between a man and a little girl, forced exposure of children to graphic scenes, drug addiction and drug trafficking, organ harvesting, human trafficking, child labor, and having a violent reaction in response to harming a child.
Each film presents the story in a unique way in my opinion. The cultural differences make it unique. The original maintains its title of original and wins in its gruesome way to tell the story right into your face. The Indian version presents it in a more entertaining way and in some cases, it hides some of the gruesomeness while keeping the violence and emotions of the original story.
Ajeossi is a 2010 South Korean action thriller film written and directed by Lee Jeong-Beom. The film is produced by Opus Pictures (Lee Tae-Heon). The film stars Won Bin as the main protagonist. The title means Mister and the film is also known as “The Man from Nowhere”. The soundtrack is composed by various artists.
WHERE TO WATCH
ABOUT THE STORY
In this section, I will share with you how I understood the story with subtitles. Yes, there are going to be major spoilers, but I think it’s important to share this perspective because sometimes things can get lost in translation or cultural differences may have an impact on how one interprets the story. I think it’s unfair when this happens with critics that are very quick to judge. Especially with foreign cinema, audiences tend to rely on critics and influencers that sometimes have their own biases or even have no idea about what they are reviewing.
Eventually, I think it’s better to watch it and make your own assessment. Sometimes rewatching is necessary. Afterward, it’s fun to compare with these “critics and influencers” and see how much they got wrong. There is always something. Now, let’s get into the story…
The film takes place in South Korea. The film starts with a man lighting up a cigarette in the dark before making a phone call. Turns out he is in a van with other men. They seem to be police agents undercover as civilians partaking in a secret operation. In the meantime, we see a man entertaining a strip club with a bag. The agents appear to be monitoring the club. At the club, a man was attacked from behind in the changing room by a go-go dancer with a Taser. The woman took what appeared to be a pack of opium from the man’s bag and left with another man. She later hides the drugs in a camera bag which she pawns to Tae-Sik for safekeeping. It appears that the group of agents was after the man that delivered the bag.
We then see a man with 4-inch disheveled hair, Cha Tae-Sik, played by Won Bin, buying stuff in the open market. While he was walking back to his place, he sees a bouquet of white flowers on the side of the road. It stands out in the environment it’s in. Arriving at his pawnshop he talks to a little girl, Jeong So-Mi, played by Kim Dae-Ron. We see that he has the flowers. He opens the shop and the girl gives him her earplugs in exchange for money to buy food. He invites the girl to eat the food he just bought.
Her mother Hyo-Jeong, the go-go dancer, came looking for So-Mi but she is hiding from her. Jeong So-Mi put the flowers in a vase but Cha Tae-Sik got angry with her. We then see the man that the agents fought to set free and that he belonged to the local mafia. In the meantime, So-Mi ‘s mother, who was the same woman who stole the bag, was being manhandled by her boyfriend, the same man that help her escape when she stole the bag. So-Mi arrives at the door just when the man was leaving. Her mother then proceeds to take opium in her room while So-Mi is next door hearing everything.
She goes to Tae-Sik and stays with him. The next day she already left when Tae-Sik woke up but he left him a note and did one of his nails. That day Tae-Sik puts on a suit and goes to visit his wife’s resting place. On his way back he sees the little girl being scolded by a woman and the police. She sees him at a distance. The police officers ask her whether he is her father. They then call him to talk to him but he just walks off.
We then see a man, Jong-Seok¸ in an open jacuzzi with women. Man-Seok, who is Jong-Seok’s brother calls him. At the shop, Tae-Sik sees So-Mi who seems to agree with him. She takes something from the store and runs away. Tae-Sik pays for her stuff. The shop owner talks with Tae-Sik about So-Mi. That night he follows her to make sure she gets home safe. She noticed and stops him asking for her earplugs back and gives him a trading card in exchange. She tells him with tears in her eyes that she won’t be bothering him anymore. She arrives home and finds a man, Jong-Seok, torturing her mother. Another man, Ramrowan, covered her eyes while the torture continues until she told them where she hid the drugs.
Arriving at the store Tae-Sik finds mafia men including the guy we’ve seen before at the beginning that was arrested at the club. Tae-Sik killed him. Ramrowan came and handed him the phone to talk to their leader, there he heard the little girl. He has a soft spot for the girl and wants to save her. The mafia instructed him to do something in order to get the So-Mi. He later realizes it’s drug smuggling. He goes directly to the crime lord and gives him the package. We see the team arriving at the place. It was a trap by Man-Seok who wants revenge and to take over the business of the crime syndicate.
The crime lord tries to escape in a car. Tae-Sik tries to stop the crime lord, but he gets into an accident with his car, and the crime lord manages to escape. The police see the deceased body of So-Mi’s mother in the back of the car which is all sewn up looking like all organs were removed. The police took Tae-Sik in custody for interrogation. When it was time to eat, they freed him which gave him the opportunity to escape. In the meantime, the police went to his place and found the body of one of the gangsters.
The mafia got the ex-boyfriend of So-Mi’s mother. So-Mi is thrown front of an old elder lady who puts her in a room full of other little kids in front of an elder lady who threw her in a room full of other little kids. We then see the mafia men torturing the boyfriend and eventually killing him. Then we see the crime lord looking for Man-Seok for help.
The police are trying to figure out who he is, as he is not normal. In the meantime, Tae-Sik with the help of an informant is getting clues and arrives at the club. To his luck, Man-Seok is on his way to the club. In the bathroom, he finds one of the mafia members and beat him up. The others arrive gun blazing and later fight. Tae-Sik gets shot. They go to the dance floor where they intend to start the fight but Man-Seok stops him and leaves. Tae-Sik goes after him with no luck but promises that he will get him.
The police also arrived at the club but couldn’t get him. At the station, the police officers discovered he was a former covert operative for the South Korean Army Intelligence, with numerous commendations, but retired after he was wounded and his pregnant wife was killed by a hitman. In the meantime, he went to his former partner to get himself patched up. There he remembered his wife who had a picture of her sonogram. She was pregnant. One day when they went to the store to buy baby stuff, Tae-Sik went inside while his wife stayed in the car. Exciting the store Tae-Sik sees a truck crashed into the car where she was and he got shot. He lay there unable to move. Currently, he was staying with his former partner at a junkyard recovering.
In the meantime, the police got recent pictures of So-Mi and got the informant in custody for interrogation. Tae-Sik after healing is cutting his hair and preparing himself to get back to looking for the little girl. The informant received his call during interrogation. The police officer takes the phone and talks to Tae-Sik. Tae-Sik goes into the neighborhood looking for clues. We then see So-Mi sitting with a bunch of other kids, Ramrowan, gives her a cookie.
One of the girls is getting released, she looked wealthy, and she thanked So-Mi for doing her nails. So-Mi noticed Ramrowan had stitched on his forehead so she put a plaster on it. Ramrowan looks at her flabbergasted by her kindness. At the airport, the police got a drug smuggler and asked him about the little girl. Tae-Sik is monitoring the vending machines the mafia uses to smuggle drugs across the city. He follows a boy that uses the vending machine goes to an arcade to exchange something then goes to the ATMs to extract money from a bunch of credit cards he received. During all this, Tae-Sik misses So-Mi doing the same kind of work in the neighborhood. He tails the boy but gets obstructed by the police on his quest. He fights them and continues his search.
He arrives at a place where they are making drugs using kids as lab workers, he recognizes Jong-Seok. He thinks he sees So-Mi but he is mistaken. He finds a morgue where he discovers the body of the crime lord. In the next room, he finds a man on the verge of injecting drugs into the kids that already look pale from drug use. He shoots the man. The sound alerts the other 2 but Tae-Sik shoots one of them. He fights Jong-Seok and later tortures him. Tae-Sick calls his brother to warn him again while he keeps shooting him in the leg. Later he prepares to bomb the place with leaked gas.
Meanwhile, the police are trying to understand the connection between Tae-Sik and So-Mi. Outside the building, there is an agent monitoring the place when the bomb explodes and the child slaves are set free. We then see So-Mi in an ambulance and appear to be there for an eye operation. Ramrowan is sitting there looking troubled.
Tae-Sik arrives at the mafia’s lair. Man-Seok is fishing up a container with two eyes inside. He disclosed that those were So-Mi’s eyes. Man-Seok brags about which makes Tae-Sik mad. He then goes into a murderous shooting spree at everyone. Once out of bullets, he starts fighting everyone using the knives they attacked him with. He is merciless in all the killings. Once finished he looks at the container and tries to pick it up but it gets shot by Ramrowan. He looks at him unafraid with a crazy look.
Meanwhile Man-Seok is collecting all his money while trying to escape. Ramrowan puts down his gun and takes out a strange knife and they start the fight. In the end, Kabir stabs him in the heart. Then we see the ambulance door move and Man-Seok in his car trying to escape.
Tae-Sik shoots at him while Man-Seok is calling the police. Tae-Sik climbs the top of the car and shoots it appears the car is bulletproof. Tae-Sik goes to the front. Man-Seok tells him that he can’t do anything and that the police are on their way. Tae-Sik puts the gun on the front shield right in front of Man-Seok and keeps shooting until the glass breaks and the bullet finally goes through killing Man-Seok. Tae-Sik starts to walk away but he stops and seems lost.
He goes on his knees, and loads his gun, remembering the little girl, he puts the gun to his head and is about to pull the trigger when he hears her voice calling him. He turns and sees her standing there. He hides the gun and tells her to stay away. She runs to him and hugs him. He wants to push her away but he is unable to. They both cry. Turns out Ramrowan killed the doctor to save So-Mi.
The police arrive at the scene. Tae-Sik is taken by the police but he is allowed to ride along with So-Mi. While she was sleeping, he asks them to allow them to go to their local shop. There he gets all the school necessities for So-Mi. He then tells her that they won’t be seeing each other for some time and says goodbye. They hug each other while they break down in tears. The film ends with a close-up on Tae-Sik face.
The films deal with difficult themes such as child labor, child trafficking, drug trafficking & drug addiction, organ harvesting, forced exposure of children to graphic scenes, and having a violent reaction in response to harming a child. I watched this film after Rocky Handsome so I’m familiar with the themes. However, this film is more sobering and realistic to a certain extent.
And the most important theme that gives the lead character the drive to look for the little girl, a nurturing bond that is in the realm of a father-daughter bond or a mentor/protector bond. Lucky for the little girl her protector has a set of skills to save her.
The relationship between Tae-Sik and Naomi is that of a father and daughter’s but it took some time for me to understand it. She has some respect for him as she always called him Ajeossi (Mister) and seems to be the only human he talks to. She would be taking the place of the child he lost.
SET OF SKILLS
The film reminds me a little bit of Taken (2008). However I would say that Taken has the same Rocky Handsome distraction issue. Taken is more about Liam Neeson (his set of skills) the same way Rocky Handsome is about John Abraham (his handsomeness) even though they tried to skew some of the attention to the themes, John and Liam remain as the main selling point. Ajeossi does not have this problem. Yes, he also has a set of skills but the movie is more driven by the story that the popularity of the lead actor.
However the film has some issues that in some instances took my attention from the movie. The mafia brothers were very annoying, especially Jong-Seok. The performance goes a little bit overboard in my opinion. I also did not enjoy the last fighting scene as much. During the fight, the camera work turned into a one-player videogame for a short while, where you get the perspective of the player. That took me off for a second but then they show a close-up of the fight where Tae-Sik is cutting him through and through.
Ajeossi is engaging, the story made me care about the characters. The action scenes are bloody brutal, and at times I think the use of blood is overused but it’s also emotional
My Rating: 7/10
ROCKY HANDSOME (2016)
Rocky Handsome is a 2016 Indian Hindi-language neo-noir/action/thriller musical film directed by Nishikant Kamat, and written by Ritesh Shah. The film was produced by John Abraham under J. A. Entertainment and Sunir Khetrapal under Azure Entertainment respectively. The film is an official adaptation of the 2010 Korean film The Man from Nowhere and stars John Abraham in the lead role. The soundtrack is composed by Sunny Bawra, Inder Bawra, Ankit Tiwari, and Bombay Rockers while the lyrics are written by Kumaar, Manoj Muntashir, Abhendra Kumar Upadhyay, Sachin Pathak, Sagar Lahauri and Shekhar Astitwa.
WHERE TO WATCH
The movie can be watched on YouTube. It was on Netflix in my region a few years ago but it’s not currently available on the platform.
ABOUT THE STORY
Same as with Miss Granny, in this section I will share with you how I interpreted the story with subtitles.
The story takes place in India. It starts on the coast side. We see fisher boats and a fish market. A man is looking to buy fish. We recognize him as the protagonist Kabir, played by John Abraham. He walks by a flower stand and seeing white flowers reminds him of his wife. Arriving at his pawnshop he sensed the little Girl, Naomi.
He opens the shop and the girl exchanges her earplugs for money and complaints that it’s too little. Kabir invites her to eat the fish he bought. Trying to make conversation she asks him if he knew who’s on her pendant. It’s Saint Maria. That reminded him of his wife asking him the same question. Naomi further tells him that she is into nail arts and that if he wants, she could do his nails.
Naomi asked him whether he was a gangster, his hands are always bruised. She tells him that her mother told her to stay away from him. Then they hear her mother calling out for her. Naomi quickly hides under the table. Kabir with his foot slides the place so she can catch it and opens the door for the mother to see that there is no one sitting there. She apologizes and goes away.
The local police are investigating a drug trafficking ring in their area. They give a profile of the most important characters in the crime syndicate: Mantoo, the crime boss supported by brothers Kevin Ferriera and Luke Ferriera, who control a mass racket in organ harvesting and drug manufacturing with a professional assassin named Attila.
They know that the ring uses kids for child prostitution and child trafficking. They also know who the madam is that collects the kids but they don’t have enough evidence to convict them. The police organize a sting operation at a club that goes wrong. However, they did manage to arrest someone. That night Anna, Naomi’s mother, attacked someone and stole their drugs, and then escaped the scene with her boyfriend on a bike. Later on, Anna hides the drugs in a camera she pawns to Kabir.
When then see a montage of drug preparation and the mother getting high while the little girl is covering her ears not wanting to hear the noises her mother is making. She goes to Kabir to spend the night. The following day he wakes up finding that Naomi already left. She left him a note on the fridge. Then he noticed one of his nails had the little girl’s art on it. That day he went to visit his wife’s grave, he had Naomi’s earplugs and use them. He remembered precious times with his wife.
On his way back home Kabir sees Naomi in trouble with a parent complaining about her to the police. The police asked her about her parents. She sees him from a distance, the police asked her whether he is her dad. He just leaves. Later on, he sees Naomi in the local shop, she steals something and runs away. Kabir offered to pay her stuff to the shop owner. That night he keeps following her. She stops and asks for her earplugs back. She doesn’t have money but exchanges it for a trading card of a warrior king. She calls him handsome. She tells him that she won’t bother him anymore.
In the meantime, Mantoo is angry and wants his drugs back. The guy that was arrested at the club is set free. Mantoo is beating up Kevin for messing up. Anna’s boyfriend asks her about the drugs. Luke is shown in a swimming pool full of women. His brother calls him to take action.
Arriving home, she finds a man, Luke torturing her mother with a blow-dryer. Another man, Attila comes from behind and covers her eyes with his hands. Later we see the mafia at Kabir’s place. He tells them to leave and starts fighting them. He knocks out the guy we recognize from the club. Attila arrives and gives him the phone. He hears Naomi and her mother screaming in the car. He gives them drugs they said were in the camera bag. Atilla then shoots the guy on the ground and left the phone for them to stay in contact with Kabir. He goes outside and sees the car with the little girl. He tries to pursue it on his feet but is unsuccessful. As if on cue, it starts raining.
He waits for their instructions. They instruct him to get a car and get a package at a specific location. The package contains a toy with a bag of drugs inside. At the police station’s canteen, the officers get a tip in regards to their drug ring case. Meanwhile, Kabir arrives at an old construction site which is the lair of Mansoo. We see the police arriving at the place. Kabir takes out the drug bag in front of Mansoo. Mansoo asked him what he was doing at his place with that. Kevin calls Mansoo and tells him to prepare for the worst. Mansoo gets frustrated and breaks the bag. He orders his bodyguards to beat up Kabir and throw him outside the building. He luckily falls on a net.
As Mansoo tries to escape he falls right on the front of the car but Mansoo manages to take him out of his way. Kabir gets his car and starts going after him. Kabir gets into an accident and Mansoo escaped. Because of the crash, the back of the car gets open and Kabir and the police see the corpse of Anna, eyeless and sewn up. The police take Kabir into custody and interrogate him. Among the evidence they put in front of him, he sees the trading card he got from Naomi. While investigating his place, they found an invoice.
Meanwhile, at the police station, they give him food and he ask him to set him free to eat. Once free he starts attacking the officers in the room, taking a USB from the evidence table. Once out he starts beating up everyone outside the interrogation room meanwhile all this is recorded on video. Then we see Anna’s boyfriend getting tortured by Luke, eventually, he gets killed. Meanwhile, Naomi is left with the madam who takes her in and locks her up in a room with many other children. The police found information about Kabir. A nice montage is showing all his work as special agent Kabir Arawant code name “Rocky”, who retired after his pregnant wife Rukshida was killed outside a hospital.
Mansoo is shown on his knees in front of Attila. Kevin comes in front of Mansoo. Mansoo offers him money, everything he wants but he’s not interested. He wants revenge and full power. In the meantime, Kabir is doing is own investigation. That leads him to a group of criminals where he shows his fighting skills. They gave him a clue, a nightclub card. The police arrive at the place looking for more clues.
Kabir has an informant going into the club telling him the location of the mafia. Kabir fights with Attila but gets shot. He breaks into a medical shop and performs an impromptu surgery at his former home where he lived with his wife. He then continues his journey and finds a drug manufacturing plant that is also used as a clinic and a morgue. Kabir recognizes Luke and thought he finally found Naomi but he didn’t. Kabir finds several child slaves, and in the process tortures Luke. He calls Kevin while doing the torturing. He makes a bomb that destroys the place and kills Luke.
He tracks down Kevin and arrives at the demon’s lair which is an old church, who tells him that he has had Naomi killed. He takes a container and rolled it to Kabir’s feet. Kevin that those were Naomi’s eyes that were keep looking for him to save her. Kevin brags about his organ-selling business. Kabir takes his jacket off and covers the container. Kabir goes ballistic and shoots everyone.
When the bullets are out, he turns into a butcher gruesomely killing all the gang members. In the end, he turns to the container but it gets shot by Atilla. Kevin tries to escape in his car but Kabir shoots at the tires and continues to shoot. The car starts leaking petrol. Unfortunately, the car is bulletproof. Kevin gets desperate and calls the police. He then starts to get insolent which makes Kabir madder He goes on the front shield and keeps shooting until he breaks the glass and the bullet goes through killing Kevin.
He comes in front of a cross and goes on his knees. Kevin seems to be still alive; Kabir noticed the leak and shoots at it which makes the car explode. He then puts the gun to his head remembering his wife and Naomi who both left him. As he prepares to commit suicide out of grief, he sees Naomi who comes running to him. She had been saved by Attila before her eye surgery; he took pity on her because she had been kind to him. The eyes in the container belonged to the gangsters’ surgeon, who had been killed by Attila.
Kabir is arrested, but the officers allow Naomi to ride with him. Kabir asks them to stop at the convenience store, where he buys a backpack and school supplies for Naomi. Kabir asks her if she can manage until he returns, to which she agrees with him, and the two embrace. We see them both crying and a close-up to Kabir’s nail which still has remains of Naomi’s art. The films ends with Naomi’s smiling face.
I first watched this movie a few years ago without knowing that it is a remake. This version changes the gruesome scenes to make them more watchable to a broader audience. Bollywood Hindi films tend to glamorize stories and transform them into a cleaner version for the family to see, watching movies is usually a family event. This film in particular is not part of the Bollywood media darlings and would be categorized more as an independent Hindi Film, but one can understand why they made changes to reach a large local audience.
There are some changes that I enjoyed in Rocky Handsome like they made it clearer that kids should be protected from graphic scenes: the symbolism of protecting kids’ eyes. It’s true that in the original you will vaguely get that but in Rocky’s Handsome they made it clear by having Kabir cover the container with his jacket. That’s when it hit me how the little girl was protected from seeing things she should not see. Today children are exposed to horrific things they should not see on the internet. Even adults are not able to digest some content on the internet.
In the West, it goes so far that even the government, schools, and local authorities allow for certain materials and behaviors to be exposed to kids when in a normal society that would be considered a crime. It’s a crime to show a porn ad on TV or place a billboard in town or to have porn magazines available for sale at the store yet its ok for adults, mostly men, to parade naked in front of kids and for kids’ libraries to have books with pornographic images. I wished more people/parents would have the courage to cover the/their children’s eyes.
PROTECTOR AND MENTOR
The relationship between Kabir and Naomi is clearly stated since the beginning. She reminds him of his wife and he probably sees the child he lost in her. Her calling him handsome is just the way the new generation talks to their elders. However she does sees him as a protector and a mentor.
VILLAINS WERE VILLAINS
I also like how the villain was killed, especially after being such an insolent creature. It was very satisfying. It was very funny how the criminals were calling the police on Kabir. The brothers were portrayed as traditional villains. They looked and acted the part.
HAVE FAITH: BELEIVE IN MIRACLES
I liked the scene where Kabir is kneeling in front of the cross, kneeling in front of God, ready to take his own life when suddenly he sees Naomi was for me a very powerful scene. It was a miracle. And I also liked that the film ends with a close-up of Naomi’s milling face. It gives you the feeling that all of the struggles were worth it.
I didn’t like the scenes where Anna is using drugs at the beginning of the movie, they looked like a music video. The dance sequences at the club were unnecessary and to be fair even though I enjoyed them, the exposition scenes of Kabir working as Rocky could have been shorter. I think they took a little from having the conversation about the themes and you can see it in the reviews of the film most focus on comparisons with the original and criticizing John but very few talk about the societal issues the story addresses that still exist.
My Rating: 6.5/10
AJEOSSI AND ROCKY HANDSOME: GIVING THEM A CHANCE
This time I didn’t even bother looking at the critics because I had an idea of what I would find taking into consideration that Hollywood is known for looking at the Korean Cinema to make remakes. When it comes to Bollywood films they always come with issues. If it has a media darling, a prominent star, the reviews will be super positive or generous, if it’s not a media darling suddenly you will see them giving detailed reviews that they don’t do for the media darlings.
Same as the West, you can easily identify the access media in the Indian film industries. When it comes to independent reviewers it is difficult to differentiate those who are authentic vs those that are just repeating the mainstream. They just follow what is trending and don’t really pay attention to the film or don’t even bother to see it. Many are in the business of lecturing the movie-going audience which I find really odd considering that they often display the behaviors they are criticizing in the way they present their content and how they behave on social media.
For the global audience, it is difficult to follow what is trending there specifically to easily make the distinction so sometimes you can easily fall into the trap of the mainstream media. But it’s good to see that the movie-going audience is watching all sorts of films and sharing their experiences watching those films. They are a much-needed voice for the global audience. I hope they consider adding subtitles to their videos and/or considering publishing their reviews in English or Spanish.
In general, it is a simple story with violent action and filled with emotions that are shown in both films each in their own way. While the original Korean film is more grounded in some ways, the amount of blood used was too much for me, the Indian film limits the amount of blood and heightens the physicality of the protagonist.
When it comes to rewatching films, when it comes to these two, I have watched Rocky Handsome more times because of “John Abraham”. I like the action sequences in Rocky Handsome. Especially the final fight scene. Even though it was over the top it felt satisfying because the bad guys, who where using children to help manufacture and distribute their drugs, were getting what they deserved. I lost count of how many times I have watched that scene.
Overall, the main story is important to be told in whatever capacity possible covering the difficult themes that the story addresses, human trafficking, forced child labor through child trafficking, and drug trafficking. These are important societal issues that have been put under the rug for many years as people (government, mainstream media, entertainment industry) don’t want to discuss these real issues.
Everyone has seen the U.S. response to the Sound of Freedom which also has a man with a set of skills that hunts the kidnappers but unlike Taken, Ajeossi, and Rocky Handsome he sends them to jail instead of killing them. The story is based on realistic events and presented through a sobering lens with the main goal to raise awareness. It doesn’t have any distractions taking away attention from the main issue it tries to illustrate, child sex trafficking. I also noticed that even though Ajeossi and Rocky Handsome are available on some streaming platforms, they are geographically restricted. Why?
Interested in more? Let’s keep an eye on Alternative Entertainment!
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