As a love letter to classic action cinema, The Man Who Feels No Pain feels utterly genuine. Far beyond the blockbusters of the genre, there is attention to detail to lesser-known yet equally iconic figures such as Sonny Chiba. From it’s opening scenes it is a feast for action historians.
Following Surya (Abhimanyu Dasani), born with a medical condition meaning he has no pain receptors. There really isn’t much more that needs to be said from this point, that’s as beautiful an idea for an action film that you could ever want. This is where The Man Who Feels No Pain excels, in that it does decide to go further, and does an exemplary job of characterising Surya and those he is close to: His loving and encouraging grandfather, his worried and overprotective father and most importantly, his fierce yet vulnerable childhood friend Supri (Radhika Madan). Surya himself is unstoppably optimistic and energised, and his temperament is infectious from beginning to end.
It is an absolute riot to watch at times, utterly absurd and coursing with ideas. Surya recounts his childhood, coming to terms with his condition and the dedication he imposes on himself to become a karate master like the one-legged master he saw in an old VHS. Supri is a conflicted, layered woman; equally disciplined and defiantly independent, yet weighed down by the societal expectation of women in that environment. Both Dasani and Madan have excellent chemistry and play off of each other very well, and they are easily the highlight of the film.
The primary issue is pacing. The film uses a framing device of Surya having his life flash before his eyes in order to show us his childhood through to early adulthood, yet takes until the end of the film to catch up to the present. Those childhood scenes are energetic montages supported by Surya’s narration, but once he reaches adulthood that stylisation is reduced yet the story is still in flashback. More unfortunate is that the humour starts to become a little forced, dragged out over longer stretches and lacking the punch of earlier scenes.
It feels twenty minutes too long. That breathtaking energy struggles over two hours, as the immensely enjoyable childhood scenes are arguably a distraction from the plot of the film, which begins proper at approximately the halfway mark. However, due to those scenes doing an excellent job of introducing Surya, Supri, his father and his grandfather, this shift in plotting isn’t particularly egregious, given the likeability of said characters.
What is harder to defend is the over abundance of slow motion across numerous action sequences. One creative use of it highlighting Surya’s imagined perspective of events contrasted against reality is outweighed by copious repetition of what even appears to be the exact same kick, dulling the impact with each use. It is a shame as the choreography does show glimpses of excellence, in particular during the finale which is an excellent showcase of character, edit, choreography and comedy.
In spite of these issues, the overall experience of watching The Man Who Feels No Pain is delightful. Maybe this is influenced by my own lack of knowledge with regards to Indian cinema, but it makes for a fresh, playful take on the action genre.
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