The Man From Nowhere

The Man From Nowhere


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Sleek, stylish and ultra violent thrillers with a twist or two are seen in the West as something of a mainstay of Korean cinema, perhaps unfairly so given the breadth of imported films increasingly on offer on DVD and at cinemas since Park Chan-Wook's Oldboy made such an impact in 2004. But these intense films are one of Korea's prime exports and regular fixtures on the festival circuit. Not surprisingly, Lee Jeong-beom's crime thriller The Man From Nowhere holds pride of place as the opening gala film of the 2010 London Korean Film Festival.

Actor Won Bin, seen in UK cinemas recently in Korean director's Bong Joon-ho's acclaimed Mother, takes on a very different character here as Cha Tae-Sik. He's a young, withdrawn man who runs a pawn shop in the bottom of a crummy apartment block in Seoul, seemingly oblivious to the outside world. Only So-mi, a young local schoolgirl with an addict mother, seems able to get through to him with her child like persistence.

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Despite himself, Tae-sik finds himself bonding with her, humouring her by accepting So-mi's MP3 player mixes in exchange for him letting her stay over when her mother is stoned. But when So-mi's mother foolishly steals top-grade drugs from the local mob, she and her daughter are violently abducted and So-mi is sold to a trafficking ring. Tae-sik, mistaken for a drug mule, finds himself a target for both the mob and the police. Only by once more embracing his former violent past as a government assassin and going on a rampage throughout the city, can Tae-sik get So-mi back.

A huge hit in Korea, The Man From Nowhere is not without its clich├ęs (the theme of a little girl breaking through a hardened loner's defences being the most obvious of many) and flaws, but it is gripping, kinetic entertainment from start to finish and this means many of the film's problems can be happily ignored. The many fight scenes are laced with slick and ultra-fast choreography and crunching sound effects that really deliver a visceral punch.

There are also some strikingly orchestrated set pieces - a brutal knife and pistol fight in a brightly lit club bathroom that spills over from the claustrophobic cubicles onto the club dance floor, a torture scene with a hairdryer and a slow-motion plunge by Tae-sik into a golf course net in the rain are just three standouts. The cinematography is also moodily effective, this is a darkly lit Korea of neon and grime, where everyone is adrift and desperate or getting caught in the crossfire. Throw in issues such as organ harvesting and child trafficking and director Lee Jeong-beom can certainly be said to have bought a particularly stark vision of modern Korea to the screen.

Actor Won Bin is burdened with something of a blank slate character through much of the film, but the scenes with young So-mi (the very good Kim Sae-ron) are involving and funny and their relationship shows enough spark to make you believe her abduction would fuel the violence that follows. Won Bin also more than delivers when it comes to the high voltage action that this film delivers in spades, though the criminals and cops he dispatches are rarely anything more than grotesque stereotypes to be destroyed.

The Man From Nowhere holds few surprises, but those seeking the kind of sleek thrill ride that Asian cinema seems so good at delivering, are well advised to check it out. Director Lee Jeong-beom, still at an early stage in his directing career, is certainly worth looking out for in future.

Reviewed on: 07 Nov 2010
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An ex-con is drawn back into drug smuggling after a family is kidnapped.
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Director: Lee Jeong-beom

Writer: Lee Jeong-beom

Starring: Won Bin, Kim Sae-Ron

Year: 2010

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


London Korean 2010

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