Here we have an intense revenge/crime drama that showcases the excellent style of South Korean cinema once again.
The Man from Nowhere might be a derivative story, but that doesn’t keep it from looking damn good. We follow mysterious loner Cha Tae-sik (Bin Won) who begrusgingly befriends a young girl named Jeong So-mi (Sae-ron Kim). So-mi is kidnapped by a ruthless gang after her mother tries to steal drugs from the group. The same gang attempts to make Tae-sik their fall guy, but they don’t know his past—he is from nowhere—get it?
Tae-sik is a former special forces operative who is living in self-imposed exile after the murder of his wife (and a failed attempt on his life). He does not want to be involved in this, but his growing care for So-mi propels him into a brutal world. The most memorable parts of the film are when Tae-sik proves he is the ultimate badass with a variety of weapons. Without spoilers, there is a knife fight you won’t soon forget.
The film looks great. The sleek style of South Korean cinema is immediately recognizable, and this lends greatly to the several large scale action sequences within the film. Further, the bustling cities and quiet streets truly show the expanse of Korea—and it is nice to see such diverse settings in an action film.
The film is not just standard action fare; well, it isn’t totally just action fare. We get some truly powerful dialogue from So-mi, who might give one of the most moving monologues I have seen recently—and I think she is about twelve in this film. The story (albeit predictable) is created with such a ferocity that it hard to not get sucked in. The pacing is relentless, as we follow two gangs, So-mi, Tae-sik, and a group of police officers trying to put all of the pieces together. Almost all of the characters are memorable in their own way.
The story itself is likewise relentless. Unblinking violence, drug addiction, torture, and organ harvesting are all front and center here. The film pulls no punches in content up to the ending, which is tonally off-putting from the rest of the film.
Despite a weak ending (and I might be in the minority on that opinion) the film is quite solid overall. I ended up buying it after seeing it the first time. For fans of brutal action set-pieces with a well-written crime narrative, The Man from Nowhere is hard to top of late. Director Jeong-beom Lee’s newer film No Tears for the Dead is likewise a stunner (also with a somewhat odd ending). I have seen a lot of the boards discussing the decline of the American action film—they are too hammy or too entrenched in political commentary. If you feel this way, give Lee’s films a try. These are exercises in genre mastery. Highly recommended. 9/10