Release Date: 05th August 2010 (South Korea)
Running Time: 119 mins.
Director: Lee Jeong-beom
Writer: Lee Jeong-beom
Starring: Won Bin, Kim Sae-ron, Kim Hee-won, Kim Sung-oh, Kim Tae-hun, Lee Jong-I, Thanayong Wongtrakul, Kim Hyo-seo
The Man from Nowhere is a film I picked after getting it confused with Nowhere to Hide directed by Lee Myung-se (Duelist). What I got was a formulaic but decent action film.
Detective Kim Chi-gun’s (Kim Tae-hun) team are at the end of a two month stakeout of a nightclub where a drug deal is about to take place. That deal does not take place because a club dancer named Hyo-jeong (Kim Hyo-seo) steals the drugs. This is a major mistake because they are connected to a Chinese mafia organisation led by brothers Man-sik (Kim Hee-won) and Jong-suk (Kim Sung-oh). Hyo-jeong hides the drugs by placing them in a camera bag and taking the bag to a pawn shop owned by Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin), a mysterious man known only as “ajusshi (mister)”. He keeps to himself apart from his relationship with a young girl named So-mi (Kim Sae-ron), daughter of Hyo-jeong. So-mi regards Cha Tae-sik as a friend since kids make fun of her for being poor and her mother regards her as “garbage”. When the Chinese mafia come looking for their drugs they kidnap Hyo-jeong and So-mi to force Cha Tae-sik to hand over the goods. This is a bad idea because this mysterious man is far more dangerous than he seems and he sets off to rescue So-mi which means he will have to take out the gangsters while avoiding the police.
One look at the story will tell you that original is the last thing this film is. Arguably the audience for this will not be bothered by the lack of originality as they are in this for the action and cool/amusing characters who do not need to be analysed too deeply and we get these elements in abundance all captured with crisp cinematography.
The situations become a bit complicated
When we are first introduced to Cha Tae-sik he looks less like a tough guy and more like a kid going through his emo phase thanks to his hair, sad gaze, and penchant for dressing in black (there is a melodramatic back story to explain the ridiculous sensitive look). He has finished grocery shopping and is heading to his dingy pawn shop when he passes heavily shadowed stairs to the basement. Sensing someone down there he growls “Come out or I’ll kill you” and So-mi gingerly emerges. At first she looks wary but then a mischievous smile spreads across her face.
So-mi so cute, I mean… who wouldn’t butcher an army of gangsters to save her? Much like the film Leon the young girl and older guy have an odd relationship going where she is the chatty, rebellious and has a talent for back-chat and decorating nails, and he is the mysterious guy who cares for her even though he pretends not to. There is chemistry between the two actors and they build on their odd friendship to strengthen simple character arcs and provide the film with some heart. I was initially resistant to some heavy handed dialogue like So-mi’s tear-streaked confession, “I don’t hate you because if I do I will have no one left to like.” but pretty soon I gave in because she is too damn cute.
Both Won Bin and Kim Sae-ron deliver their roles with confidence. Won Bin as the mystery man fond of terse dialogue avoids being bland by conveying his emotions with a potent range of facial expressions while Kim Sae-ron hits the right notes, making the audience sympathise with her especially when the gangsters get a hold of her.
Kim Hee-won and Kim Sung-oh as the two gangster brothers, one cold and calculating while the other is a sociopathic playboy, are familiar and convincing and you come to loathe them and their operation which is handy because we are meant to be rooting for Cha Tae-sik as he rescues So-mi and battles the bad guys after getting his symbolic haircut.
He didn’t blink when I shot the gun
The action is another highlight and in the first five minutes we get an amusing fight between police who throw themselves at a bear of a man who sweeps them aside. The fight is ended with a neat series of reversals and counters laid on by Ki Chi-gun. The film is full of brief but exciting fights reminiscent of the Bourne Identity film but without the quick hyper-editing to distract. Cha Tae-sik fights numerous believable battles where his quick, controlled, and efficient moves will block and reverse a person’s aggression and weapons all while he runs the risk of getting hurt himself. There are two highlights including a brutal fist fight in a toilet cubicle with a corpse and a nervy knife fight at the end with POV shots which get obscured by blood and blades.
Only an idiot would not call the cops
The Man from Nowhere features a hackneyed plot with similarities to the western action films Taken (rescue the girl!) and The Bourne Identity (mysterious past!). The film also contains major lapses of logic that felt wrong for the characters but it makes fun of some of the silliness. What I did like about the script was that it ties off so many strands neatly and the narrative breezes by. There are also many light scenes of comedy such as the gangster mistaking Cha Tae-sik for a Chinese gangster and the scenes with the detectives.
Overall I was disappointed with this film’s formulaic story especially after watching A Bittersweet Life. Thankfully there are strong performances that carried me along. This is an action film where you can switch off your brain and lap up some solid action.