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Man From Nowhere, The
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by Jay Seaver

"You'll earn your way to that knife fight."
4 stars

One thing that I've noticed from reviewing Korean movies is that action movies are fairly likely to have the same person credited as writing and directing, whereas in Hollywood (and elsewhere) there will be many more names in the credits. It's an admittedly biased sample, but it perhaps explains why movies like "The Man from Nowhere", despite featuring familiar plots and character types, are both a bit sharper and a bit more self-indulgent than their American counterparts - there's no conflicting vision to tone things down. The end result is maybe a bit bloated and gross, but also undeniably thrilling.

It starts with cops staking out a Seoul strip club, waiting for some drugs and money to change hands. Nobody's plans are going well that night, though, as a dancer, Hyo-jeong (Kim Hyo-seo) intercepts the heroin and makes off with it. This leaves the police without anybody in custody and two groups of criminals very angry. Meanwhile, back at her apartment building, Hyo-jeong's daughter So-mi (Kim Sae-ron) is pestering their neighbor Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin). Things come to a head when the crooks track Hyo-jeong down and figure she's left the bag with the drugs in Tae-sik's pawnshop. Just taking it proves difficult, though, as Tae-sik rapidly disarms one thug, and their best man, Ramrowan (Thanayong Wongtrakul), notes that the pawnbroker doesn't flinch at gunshots. Still, they've got Hyo-jeong and So-mi as hostages, so Tae-sik has to play along... right?

In some ways, this is a little (maybe a lot) more complex than necessary. Eventually, writer/director Lee Jeong-beom does reduce this movie to "former assassin cuts bloody swath through underworld to save kid", but at various points the viewer has to keep two law enforcement agencies, two criminal organizations, some small-time crooks, and more straight, mostly in the beginning; at points, he seems to run out of character gimmicks for his crooks, repeating the well-dressed, vain gangster. He also raises the stakes well past showing the audience that these guys mean business - for instance brothers Man-seok (Kim Hee-won) and Jong-seok (Kim Seong-oh) don't just use kids in their business, they harvest organs! And it's not enough to show an occupied car getting pulverized, it's got to leak like a crushed can of tomato puree afterward. In both of those areas, filmmaker Lee could maybe have used another voice suggesting he dial it back.

Or, maybe not. It's not as though the story is all that complicated, and getting everyone introduced early means that, by and large, things get simpler and more straightforward once the bodies start hitting the floor. Once that starts happening, the same approach that makes this movie not for the squeamish also leads to some fairly stunning action bits. We know from early on that Tae-sik is no pushover, and director Lee knows both how to whet the audience's appetite and deliver on those promises: A confrontation in a crowded nightclub finishes with Ramrowan holding a knife, Tae-sik holding an axe, and too many people between them to make a fight practical right then, but it's at the front of our mind when the time for the climactic action scene comes and we're treated to an amazing knife fight, a fast-paced melee that is intense to the point of being vicious, liable to make the viewer gasp both from the close fight choreography and intense emotion on display. It's a terrific fight scene that does away with many doubts the audience may have leading up to it.

There are shots when the framing and editing suggests that Won Bin is being doubled a fair amount (and one impressive tracking shot that argues otherwise, unless it's CGI), but he's well able to carry the film otherwise. Tae-sik spends most of the movie giving a sense of disconnection, either by not interacting with the world at large or being frighteningly professional when it comes time to mete out violence - but Won makes the man's grudging affection for So-mi come out, and as Tae-sik gets deeper into the gang's operations, there's a satisfying sort of cool rage.

Kim Sae-ron, thankfully, is not made to play an annoyingly precocious little girl. She handles So-mi as an awesome little chatterbox when we first meet her, although the scenes where we see that the addict mother and stigmas at school get to her don't seem like a contradiction. Those who remember her from A Brand New Life know how well she can play the saddest little girl in the world when need be, which certainly comes in handy as the movie goes on.

Won Bin and Kim Sae-ron help make "The Man from Nowhere" a movie that viewers will remember for more than just a knife fight, although it's a heck of a sequence, and a knife fight is a perfectly reasonable thing to associate with this movie: They're violent and bloody, but also emotionally charged.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22311&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/09/11 20:17:02
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2010 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2010 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the New York Asian Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

User Comments

7/20/12 Sean Harrison Brilliant action thriller from an unknown director. 5 stars
3/24/11 Saif A. Khan Nothing new but still...very satisfying. 4 stars
3/18/11 christa won bin has a briLLiant acting! thumbs up for won bin 5 stars
3/14/11 Man out 6 Bucks Realistic fighting and the most vile villains 5 stars
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  01-Oct-2010 (R)
  DVD: 08-Mar-2011



Directed by
  Jeong-beom Lee

Written by
  Jeong-beom Lee

  Bin Won
  Sae-ron Kim
  Hyo-seo Kim

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