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