Film: The Man From Nowhere *****
Release date: 11th April 2011
Running time: 119 mins
Director: Lee Jeong-beom
Starring: Kim Sae-ron, Kim Hyo-seo, Won Bin
Country: South Korea
Reviewer: Adam Wing
What do you get when you cross action-thriller Taken with The Bourne Identity? One of Korea’s biggest movies of 2010, that’s what. The Man From Nowhere was both a commercial and critical hit back home, picking up Blue Dragon, Daejong and Korean Film Awards along the way.
Won Bin (Mother) won Best Actor at the Daejong and Korean Film Awards, and it’s not hard to see why - The Man from Nowhere brings with it one of the coolest action heroes of the last ten years. It’s a simple concept - a mysterious agent goes to desperate lengths in order to save a girl - which makes way for stylised action and emotional drive. So-mi is played by award-winning child actress Kim Se Ron, and writer-director Lee Jeong Beom takes to the action-thriller genre like a duck to water, adding a welcome does of humanity to the violence and bloodshed.
Tae Sik (Won Bin) runs a pawnshop on the wrong side of town, able to live a quiet life pretty much keeping himself to himself. His only friend, and somewhat reluctantly I might add, is So Mi (Kim Se Ron), a young girl who likes to take refuge in his shop. Trouble comes a calling when So Mi's junkie mother shows up on the scene, hoping to pawn a camera bag - a camera bag full of stolen drugs. Gangsters tear up the pawnshop to get the drugs back, and Tae Sik discovers that So Mi and her mother have been abducted. Tae Sik is presented with an opportunity to rescue the two girls, but in doing so he runs the risk of revealing his own dark past, to both the gangsters and the law enforcement officers hunting them down.
It’s not often that we’re able to embrace the best of both worlds, but Jeong-beom Lee has achieved just that. The Man from Nowhere is blessed with some of the most electrifying action sequences of the year. The close-combat choreography is brutally realistic, and Won Bin is an arresting presence as the stone cold agent with vengeance in mind. Never less than believable, he acquits himself perfectly, striking the right balance between icy cool and fiery as Hell.
As seen in Mother, Won Bin is very much in tune with his softer side, but it’s a balancing act that rarely succeeds in the action-thriller genre. The Man from Nowhere successfully counteracts the rough with the smooth, providing both hard and heart in equal measures. Won Bin might not look like your typical one-man killing machine, but in Tae Sik he has clearly discovered his darker side. It’s a stunning performance, aided by Kim Se Ron, bringing with her the emotional hook on which the films delicate balancing act hinges.
Jeong-beom Lee orchestrates with the deftest of touch, fuelling the burning fires with quick fire editing and dazzling camerawork. Even the most straightforward of scenes - one in particular finds our reluctant hero jumping through a glass window onto the street below - are graced with polish and pizzazz. The camera follows him down to the ground as he rolls back to his feet; it’s a fleeting moment, but a majestic one none the less.
Jeong-beom Lee could’ve walked the same path as similar directors in this field, but The Man from Nowhere feels both comfortably reliable and shiny and new with him at the helm. The characters are perhaps well worn, ranging from silent and deadly to one flew over bat-shit crazy, but conforming to convention is not always a bad thing - especially when the characters are provided by a memorable supporting cast with a penchant for scene stealing. The Man from Nowhere successfully combines violence, bloodshed, heart and soul, courtesy of two pitch-perfect performances, noteworthy support and stirring direction. The action is fast and frantic, and the drama reaches places you weren’t intending to go.
Action-thrillers don’t get much better than this, and even though you didn’t see it coming, there’s a chance you wont be forgetting Won Bin’s man from nowhere in a hurry.