Rocky Handsome (2016) Review

"Rocky Handsome" Theatrical Poster

“Rocky Handsome” Theatrical Poster

Director: Nishikant Kamat
Writer: Lee Jeong-beom, Ritesh Shah
Cast: John Abraham, Diya Chalwad, Nishikant Kamat, Sharad Kelkar, Nathalia Kaur, Yash Tonk, Nishikant Kamat, Sharad Kelkar, Shiv Kumar Subramaniam, Suhasini Mulay, Teddy Maurya, Kazu Patrick Tang, Uday Tikekar
Running Time: 119 min.

By Paul Bramhall

I’ll be straight up and confess – I’ve never seen a Bollywood movie from start to finish, not one. While I’m being frank, I’ll also confess that if someone had told me that the first Bollywood movie I’d watch in its entirety would be called Rocky Handsome, I’d most likely have laughed in their face. However, as ridiculous a title as it is, Rocky Handsome was indeed the movie that popped my Bollywood cherry, and I have a legitimate reason to back it up. The Hindi language production is in fact a remake of the 2010 Korean movie The Man from Nowhere, a solid action thriller that had Won Bin out to rescue his murdered neighbours young daughter from organ trafficking gangsters.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time Bollywood has remade a Korean gangster flick. A Bittersweet Life was remade as Awaarapan; I Saw the Devil was remade as Ek Villain; and OldBoy was remade as Zinda. In Zinda, Bollywood actor John Abraham took on the role that Yoo Ji-tae played in Park Chan-wook’s 2003 masterpiece, and ironically it’s Abraham that also steps into the shoes of Won Bin for this latest remake. It appears he’s trying to corner the market for being cast as the Bollywood version of Korean actors. Abraham is half Syrian and half Indian, with his most famous role being that of the anti-hero in the 2004 production Dhoom, which was billed as India’s biggest ever action movie and spawned several sequels (all minus Abraham).

I was curious to see exactly what kind of Bollywood twist Rocky Handsome would bring to The Man from Nowhere, so braced myself for a journey into the unknown. The man in the director’s chair is Nishikant Kamat, who also plays the villain of the piece (played by Kim Hee-won in the original), and has worked with Abraham before on the 2011 action movie Force. Ironically Force is also a remake, this time of the 2003 Tamil language movie Kaakha…Kaakha: The Police. Is anyone beginning to see a recurring theme here?

I was rather taken aback then, to find that Rocky Handsome is in fact a shot-for-shot-, line-for-line remake of The Man from Nowhere. Sure, there’s some slight cosmetic changes – it’s now set in Goa instead of Seoul, and the drug addict mother uses a cricket bat rather than a Taser, however beyond these minor adjustments, it’s almost identical in every way. Even the run times are virtually the same. It’s not the first time a movie has been remade shot-for-shot, most notably Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic, was also identical to its source material. However at least in this example, there’s a 38 year gap between the two, whereas here it’s just a short 6 years.

For someone that’s seen The Man from Nowhere, it makes it incredibly difficult to be engaged with Rocky Handsome. Rather than each actor bringing their own characteristics and flavour to their roles, instead everyone just looks like they’re doing their best to copy their Korean counterparts. Even inconsequential elements like small hand gestures and facial expressions are copied exactly, making the viewing experience one which borders on the bizarre. Young actress Diya Chalwad, who takes on the role originally played by Kim Sae-ron, comes across as incredibly irritating, making it equally difficult to care if Abraham eventually rescues her or not (which of course, for those who have seen the original, is already a foregone conclusion).

While it was certainly never its intention, Rocky Handsome serves as an interesting case study into just how important it is to have chemistry between two performers, and how it’s a crucial part of audiences buying into any relationships we see onscreen. In The Man from Nowhere you genuinely felt like Won Bin cared about Kim Sae-ron, and would do anything to get her back. Abraham and Chalwad share the same scenes, the same lines (yes that includes both the MP3 scenes and the smiley nail art), however there’s simply nothing between them that makes you believe that they have a close bond. Instead everything feels like its recycled and trying too hard to be poignant, reminding us that we’re not watching a Bollywood interpretation of The Man from Nowhere, we’re watching a Bollywood carbon copy of The Man from Nowhere.

Despite this, there are at least some Bollywood influences incorporated into Rocky Handsome. Apart from the opening credits, which play over a flashback of Abraham’s wife serenading him on the beach, the two nightclub scenes from the original – first the police raid, and the second with the bathroom fight – here provide excuses to unleash some Bollywood song and dance numbers. So yes, that means that the bathroom fight is inter-cut with a Bollywood dance number. Forgivable? No. Also, when the cops finally crack the classified files and they gain access to Abraham’s past, we’re bombarded with a horrendous slow motion montage of him training bare chested, and various snippets of action from past missions. The montage frequently cuts back to the cop reading his file – “Secret Agent”, cut back to more bare chested posing, “Super Patriot”, cut back to slow motion gun firing etc. You get the idea. The cheesiness of these scenes is completely at odds with the dark tone that the rest of the movie has, making them stick out like a sore thumb.

One of the most interesting casting choices is that of Kazu Patrick Tang, the French martial artist who originally look set for a bright action career, after being the co-lead alongside Jija Yanin in the 2009 Thai movie Raging Phoenix. It seems though that he was never able to capitalise on the movies success, despite playing the lead in 2013’s lacklustre Dragonwolf, he most recently had an uncredited appearance (again alongside Jija Yanin) in Hard Target 2. Here he plays the role of the South East Asian henchman that Thai actor Thanayong Wongtrakul memorably played in the original. Funnily enough, Wongtrakul’s henchman is explained as being Vietnamese in The Man from Nowhere, however in the remake Tang is explained to be Thai. So the Thai guy plays a Vietnamese, and the French guy plays a Thai. Go figure.

Tang is a legitimate martial artist though, and has also featured in another 2016 Bollywood action movie in the form of Baahgi, which at least provides the promise of an interesting penultimate knife fight that capped off The Man from Nowhere on such a high note. Indeed the finale of Rocky Handsome is actually more violent than that of The Man from Nowhere, and throws in an extra minutes worth of action. Far from providing a brief glimpse of originality though, instead we’re just reminded that since 2010, another little movie has been released called The Raid. Cue stabbings galore, a knife in the eye, a machete in the head, and a thug armed with a sledge hammer. All very violent stuff, but that’s just it – it’s only violent. The finale of The Man from Nowhere was both violent and, more crucially, visceral. It felt cathartic. Here there’s an inescapable feeling that we’re watching an Indian guy playing a Korean guy, dishing out pain like an Indonesian guy. Nothing more, and as a result, it all feels very derogatory.

So, while Rocky Handsome may be my first Bollywood movie, it doesn’t really feel like it. It’s a replica of The Man from Nowhere, so as a reviewer, how best to approach it? The Man from Nowhere is a well-made movie, and as such, copying it also results in a movie that can’t be completely bad. However, the fact is that any filmmaker can copy another, if you’re going to remake something, then at least put an ounce of originality into it, or a twist in the tale. Based on this viewpoint, Rocky Handsome is a miserable exercise in copycat filmmaking, and will likely only find an audience on local shores that haven’t been exposed to the original. If it never travels beyond those shores, then that’s fine with me.

Oh, and you’re probably wondering why it’s called Rocky Handsome? Well, Abraham’s character has the nickname Handsome. When the cops finally crack his files and reveal his past, it turns out that his codename was Rocky. Got It? Rocky. Handsome. We even get a split screen over an hour into the movie showing Abraham in the past and present, when each name comes flying from either side of the screen to come together in the middle. Now that I’ve remembered this, I’m going to minus another point from my final rating.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 2/10

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12 Responses to Rocky Handsome (2016) Review

  1. Scott Blasingame says:

    Wow, that movie sucked!!!!! I’ve yet to see a Bollywood movie I’d ever sit through again. And I’m one up you ’cause I’ve seen two.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      Well you’re definitely the expert between us…you’ve seen double the amount of Bollywood movies than I have! 😛 Are you a fan of ‘The Man from Nowhere’ Scott?

  2. You couldn’t pay me to watch this movie. I’d rather pay someone to scrub their floors. Seriously. After reading your review, I watched the trailer and I’m convinced that your 2/10 rating is way too high. A love-making scene? Dude jumping in the air (in slow motion) while shooting guns? Same abnormally buff guy walking away from an explosion in slow-motion? – What Michael Bay wet dream world are these filmmakers living in? A shot-for-shot remake, but I don’t remember seeing this lame sh*t in the original. Funny how they have good taste in picking films they want to remake… I mean… shouldn’t they be remaking A Good Day to Die Hard or Fast and Furious or some crap? I say it once, and I’ll say it again: Stick to full blown musicals, Bollywood. Those are the kinds of films you’re good it.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      This has to be the most laugh out loud response I’ve ever had to one of my reviews, I can feel the anger! It’s funny that you mention the airborne gun firing and explosion scene, as these two snippets are part of the montage that I mention when the cops crack his classified files. Its cringe inducing, and completely out of place in a movie like this. We don’t even know why (or who) he’s firing at, or the cause of the explosion….but you know, even if I did, it would be hard to care. Oh, and I think ‘Dhoom’ is loosely based on ‘The Fast and the Furious’.

      • ‘Dhoom’ is loosely based on ‘The Fast and the Furious’…. FIGURES. lol You know, there is one Bollywood film I do want to see. I can’t think of the title right now, but it was some 2-part gangster saga that was supposed to be really epic and gritty (and very un-Bollywood-like).

  3. Kyle Warner says:

    Hahaha. ‘Rocky Handsome.’ Just the title alone makes me laugh. Thanks for the warning, Paul. I shall steer clear.

    I caught some of the Bollywood remake of ‘Oldboy’ a few years back. It was horrendous. The finale of ‘Oldboy’ is like a punch in the gut, the finale of Bollywood’s ‘Oldboy’ remake ‘Zinda’ makes ya bust a gut laughing. I’ve been suspicious of Bollywood action movies and thrillers ever since.

  4. Kung Fu Bob says:

    Just a week ago I was talking with my son about remakes and went on a humorously vicious tirade about the horrible PSYCHO “remake”. What a complete and utter waste of time by a filmmaker that has proven he can create real gems (his filmography ranges from horrible to fantastic). However (I admit sheepishly), out of morbid curiosity, I do kind of want to watch some of the action scenes i ROCKY HANDSOME just to see how they came out… I’ll skip the montage though!

    • Never understood shot-by-shot remakes, especially the classic you speak of. Speaking of remakes in general, there are a few remakes I thought were better than the originals: The Hills Have Eyes, Vanilla Sky, The Departed, The Fly (I admit I haven’t seen the original, I’m making a dumb move by judging from clips I’ve seen… and I can safely say I’ll bet everything I own that the remake is the better movie), The Thing (same comments), and Strangers (an unofficial remake of Them).

      • Kung Fu Bob says:

        THE FLY is definitely a classic of the fifties and holds a special place in my heart, but yes, the remake is by far the better film. As for THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD), the original is fantastic, but other than the basic premise and setting, it and the Carpenter film are completely different. The 1951 film is top-notch, with a great cast, atmospheric direction and some great, chilling moments. But “The Thing” is basically just a big, bad-ass, pissed off alien dude that woke up on the wrong side of his icy bed. The 1981 film returned to the concept of John W. Campbell’s short story WHO GOES THERE?, making “The Thing” a shape-shifting menace, and bringing the whole element of paranoia into the mix. The Carpenter film is one of my all time favorites.

        Have you ever seen IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958)? The film’s events take place in “the future”… 1973 (! LOL) and revolve around an alien creature that is a stowaway on one of our rocket-ships, stalking and devouring it’s crew members. Sound familiar? After seeing ALIEN in 1979 I asked my Dad if it was supposed to be a remake of IT! (though ALIEN completely blows away its possible influence).

        I’d opine that THE STRANGERS and THEM are pretty much equal in their merits. THE DEPARTED is a good movie, but I never really connected with it the same way I do with most of Scorsese’s films, and I prefer INTERNAL AFFAIRS over it. I’m not a fan of VANILLA SKY nor OPEN YOUR EYES. Though the remake of HILLS HAVE EYES was very good I still favor the original (just re-watched it in style thanks to Arrow’s fantastic new Blu-ray release), often quoting Papa Jupiter’s “I like fixing people good!” to make my son laugh.

        My favorite remake has got to be Peter Jackson’s MEET THE FEEBLES though, a fairly obvious reworking of the Julie Andrews film THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

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