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South Korea 2010

Crime, Thriller

Lee Jeong-beom

Won Bin
Kim Sae-ron
Kim Tae-hoon
Kim Hee-won
Kim Seong-oh
Thanayong Wongtrakul
Lee Jong-pil
Kim Hyo-seo
Song Yeong-chang

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The Man From Nowhere

Story: Tae-sik (Won Bin) is a withdrawn, quiet man, who owns a small pawn shop. Although he avoids other people the little girl So-mi (Kim Sae-ron) manages to push herself into the life of the mysterious man. She often is at his side because her mother doesn't take care of her when she is druggy as is often the case. One day the girl's mother steals something from the local mafia and gets herself and her daughter in grave danger. So-mi is kidnapped and Tae-sik is caught between the fronts by accident. He is forced by two mafia brothers to help them take out the current mafia boss. However, Tae-sik is framed by them and is now on the run from the police as well. On his search for So-mi he uncovers a drug trafficking ring and finds out that the two mafia brothers are operating an organ trafficking business, too. When Tae-sik has to fear the worst about So-mi's fate he goes on a hunt for the two brothers and they soon have to find out that Tae-sik is everything but your usual pawn shop owner.

Review: "The Man From Nowhere" was a huge success at the Korean box office and a big career boost for main actor Won Bin who just over night became ten times as popular as before. As it is with blockbusters I'm always especially discerning. What makes a lot of money at the box office is seldomly original, unfortunately. And this thriller verifies that theory, too. A man who has actually left his past behind him is forced to put up his arms again in order to save his beloved from the claws of some gangsters. The lover is replaced by a daugher-substitute and the rest works according to the same formula as films like "Man on Fire" or "Taken", resp. even older representatives of the genre. In fact, Korea, too, has already brought movies like this on the big screen. One of them that stuck with me is "Sunflower", and what's the name of the main character of that movie? Tae-sik! Coincidence? Most likely not, but better copied well than thought up badly yourself, as the filmmakers might have thought. And since the rest of the movie is really convincing fans of the premise will absolutely get their money's worth.

One thing has to be made clear from the get-go. Won Bin as a tough killer is just ridiculous. It's not simply his boyish looks but his whole character just doesn't fit the role. Adding to that is his hair cut at the beginning that looks as if he is a member of some kind of Asian pop group! What kind of professional ex-killer who only wants to be left alone runs around spruced up like him? This initial fact alone was already enough for me to consider Won Bin a complete miscast. Instead of him I'd rather had seen Lee Byung-hun in this kind of role for the 100th time. But... surprisingly Won Bin manages to put so much energy into the fights physically that at the end he actually sells the character he portrays! This doesn't change the first half of the film, in which he can't convince us and on a side note also doesn't cover himself in glory, but instead is beaten up quite good a few times. Where does the sudden increase in skill come from towards the end, when he faces a small army of gangsters without having any problems in dealing with them?

There are some things in "The Man From Nowhere" that haven't really been thought through entirely. The introduction seems to be created as some sort of constantly rising tension bar leading to a breathtaking finale, anyway. There are some half-baked side stories revolving around the police and their fight against the mafia and a few supporting characters, that are dropped as fast as they are introduced. All of this seems a bit chaotic and not really coherent but in the end is easy to forgive. Emotionally the viewer isn't just involved by the little girl but also by a predictable flashback into Tae-sik's past which is supposed to make him look more three-dimensional. Still, all of this doesn't work the way it was intended. What's working is the revenge aspect. The world of this thriller is so dark, bloody and evil, the gangsters so cold-blooded and vile that you are soon cheering for Tae-sik. A man who has nothing to lose anymore is the most dangerous enemy you can imagine and the gangsters have to experience that first-hand quite to the amusement of the audience.

While a gritty thriller atmosphere is running through the whole film carried by a well-known blue filter laid over the pictures and many scenes shot in pouring rain it's especially the moments of violence at the end that can be shocking and captivating. "The Man From Nowhere" also delivers the best knife fighting scene I've seen thus far in a movie. The brutality during the showdown may not come as a surprise, yet, concerning the pacing and level of impact it is picking up a lot while the choreography is still finely done so that you simply must call this a ballet of blood. Won Bin shows full physical presence and can convince even the biggest critics, including myself, at this point the latest. Also deserving to be mentioned because he delivers an outstanding villian thanks to his composed charisma and his sense for the honor of a professional assassin is Thanayong Wongtrakul who shows a certain kind of respect towards Tae-sik and naturally faces him in a one-on-one knife combat at the end. Even though the villians aren't really fleshed out they still have their peculiarities, that make them more colorful or at least more loathsome.

Director Lee Jeong-beom ("Cruel Winter Blues") doesn't leave anything to chance in technical respects. The movie looks like a big budget production at all times, but it also doesn't refrain from experimenting a bit every now and then. Irritating is one scene in which the camera jumps through a window along with Tae-sik. We have just seen that in Kim Ji-woon's "I Saw the Devil"! So who copied who? Anyway, those scenes don't fit to the style of the rest of the movie, even if it might have been a nice idea.
Innovation is nothing you will find in "The Man From Nowhere", sadly the thriller also isn't as emotionally involving as the aforementioned "Sunflower" but for that you get a grade 1 revenge thriller that has a great pacing and a very satisfying finale so that after a long time a movie will make you lean back on your sofa with a smile in your face again. It's this feeling of being entertained why we watch movies and "The Man From Nowhere" delivers. A movie that from an objective point of view has just too many flaws, the freeze-frame at the end is one in itself, but the extremely adrenaline-loaden second half of the thriller is making up for all of that. One of the best revenge thrillers of the last few years.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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