Rating: 4 stars out of 5
The Man From Nowhere was Korea’s highest grossing film in 2010, and a big winner at the Korean Film Awards, including clinching Best Actor for lead Won Bin.
While the execution is first-rate, the story is fairly simple. The haggard looking Tae-sik (Won Bin) runs a pawn store, and his only friend is a Korean girl So-mi who lives next door. When So-mi’s mother gets entangled with some drug runners, Tae-sik is dragged in, and finds that his past slowly unfolds.
An action film with a distinctive Korean stamp, The Man From Nowhere is similar in vein to the Denzel Washington thriller Man on Fire. Just like that movie, a young girl chips away at the exterior of a hardened secret service agent, and when the girl’s life is threatened, the agent goes all out to save her.
What really propel The Man From Nowhereare the great action sequences. Since this is also a Korean film, things gets pretty darn bloody at times. Expect the usual touches, such as the protagonist going loco and taking down a horde of his enemies in style, as well as torture by household appliance. There are dashes of comedy and one-liners throughout, though Taesik doesn’t say much.
It’s all deftly directed, and while it’s constantly over-the-top, the film’s breathless pace recalls Luc Besson’s Leon. Director Lee Jeong-Beom is a master of the slow burn, holding the tension together before letting things blow up.
It’s certainly not as bloody as last year’s standout Korean flick, The Chaser, nor as thought provoking and devastating as Park Chan Wook’s classic Oldboy, but The Man From Nowheremanages to hold its own.
Won Bin, who starts off the movie with an untidy rag that covers his head before trimming most of it later, maintains a mostly sulky, unemotional exterior throughout. There are snatches, such as flashbacks to happier times, where Won Bin does show a different side to his character, but he was far more impressive as the slightly retarded son in Mother. Still, the actor has undeniable charisma and a smouldering presence, and director Lee, who certainly knows what the audience wants, lets the 33-year old actor flash his perfect abs in one sequence—perfect eye candy for the ladies.
The big find in this film is the young Kim Sae-ron, who plays the precocious So-mi. The young actress, who won a Best New Actress award, is great in her role as the little neighbour who chips away at Taesik’s hardened exterior.
The film does get a tad oversentimental at parts, and a few characters, such as the bumbling detectives who follow Taesik’s trail of rampage, get lost in the chaos. In spite of that, The Man From Nowhereis a top-of-the-line action/thriller that might rank amongst the classics.