The Man From Nowhere (Day 52)
My Opinion: 6.5 || Sharp action thriller that efficiently hits all the genre elements. Nothing very original, but that’s okay — it’s viscerally exciting, well shot, and doesn’t hurt your head with (too much) implausibility.
TITLE: The Man from Nowhere (Ajeossi)
DIRECTOR: Jeong-beom Lee
LANGUAGE: Korean | COUNTRY: South Korea
PROFILE: Action Thriller | 119 minutes | IMDb (7.8)
SYNOPSIS (Courtesy of IMDb): A quiet pawnshop keeper with a violent past takes on a drug- and organ trafficking ring in hope of saving the child who is his only friend.
Strengths: Any story that uses the exploitation of children as a springboard for action thrills runs the risk of exploitation, but Lee strikes the right balance. The bad guys are appropriately hateful, the little girl in peril comes across as a real person (not a prop to be manipulated by the director), and our hero’s righteous violence is set up well. It’s a two-hour film that never drags and that moves through satisfying stages right up to the cathartically bloody climax.
Strength or Weakness? The movie has nothing that we haven’t seen before in The Professional, Taken, the Bourne series, or any other contribution to the genre of slick, hyper-efficient violence. But there’s no shame in executing a formula, as long as it’s a sound formula and you really nail it, which this film does.
Weaknesses: There’s a point at which formula passes into cliché, and we see that in a few places, most notably the background story of our reluctant here. I don’t think I’m giving anything away (in fact, that’s the problem) to tell you that he’s haunted by the loss of his wife — murdered by the bad guys who were coming for him. Someone who has more patience than I do should chart the number of action/thriller anti-hero protagonists who are haunted by the tragic death of their one true love. (In novels, it’s usually, “The last time he saw Simone, on that rainy night in Zurich . . .”)
Bonus Weakness: This is nitpicking, but there’s a scene in which someone penetrates bullet-proof glass by pressing a handgun against the glass and repeatedly firing until it forms a hole. I know very little about ballistics — but don’t all those bullets have to go somewhere? If they don’t go through the glass, the only other option is for them to rebound straight back into the muzzle and (at minimum) rip his arm off with the recoil.
But that’s probably only a little more unrealistic than recuperating from a bullet wound overnight. Or a lot of the other things that happen here. I mean, it’s an action fantasy about a super-uber-ultra trained killer who can beat twelve armed bad guys at once. Don’t ask too many questions.
Characters/Performances: Bin Won give a winningly subdued performance as the hero Cha Tae-sik. No mugging for the camera or canned charisma — in fact, some of the best moments are ones in which he uses silence, a believably cold stare, and small gestures. The bad guys ham it up a bit, but it’s in the right way, and we loathe them appropriately. Crucially, Sae-ron Kim gives a great performance as the little girl in peril, So-Mi. And I have to single out one of the policeman (not sure of his character’s name — they’re not individualized much) for having a face straight out of Japanese anime. See the movie and you’ll know which one I mean. His exaggerated expressions veer toward ridiculous, but it mostly works.
Best Moment: When Cha Tae-sik uses a tiny gesture and no words to tell a little girl to step aside from the bad guy. She does. Then commences the butt kicking. There are several scenes like this, where quiet pauses are used to great effect in varying the rhythm and confirming our hero’s underlying gentleness.
File Under: righteous violence, children in peril, haunted hero, cathartic action