The Man from Nowhere

The Man from Nowhere (아저씨)
Made in: South Korea
Language: Korean
Director: Lee Jeong-Beom
Starring: Won Bin, Kim Sae-Ron, Kim Tae-Hoon, Kim Hee-Won, Kim Sung-Oh, Thanayong Wongtrakul, Kim Hyo-Seo
Year: 2010

Synopsis: Cha Tae-Sik (Won Bin) is a quiet pawnshop owner living an unassuming life in a poor district somewhere in a big city (which I presume to be Seoul, but I could be wrong). Keeping largely to himself, his only person-to-person contact is with a little girl named So-Mi (Kim Sae-Ron), who lives next door to him.

So-Mi is a good-natured and precocious kid, but her mother, Hyo-Jeong (Kim Hyo-Seo) is a heroin addict. Hyo-Jeong hides a stash of stolen heroin in a camera case, which she pawns to the unsuspecting Tae-Sik. When the gangsters come looking for it, Hyo-Jeong is brutally tortured and So-Mi is kidnapped.

Still on the search for their heroin stash, the gangsters encounter Tae-Sik, who turns out to be a bad-ass and former special agent! He gives the bad guys a good scare, and that's when things get interesting.

Tae-Sik begins a relentless mission to rescue the little girl, and finds himself going up against an underground crime syndicate that has also framed him for murder.

Now having to stay one-step ahead of the police, Tae-Sik uses all his skills and bad-assery to stop the gangsters, who are involved in a complex web of drugs, forced child labor, and illegal organ harvesting.

The Good: The Man from Nowhere has sharp production values and contains plenty of exciting action sequences. Won Bin is an appealing protagonist, and I thought it was a smart decision on the part of the filmmakers to give him very few lines.

Much of the film's characters and important plot points are shown through visuals and editing, rather than exposition. This is especially effective during the first half. Much of what happens isn't entirely predictable either, which is a hard thing to pull off with such a familiar plot.

The Bad: Although the story works itself through a logical sequence of events, it is a bit clunky. The bit about the gangsters also being involved in organ harvesting almost took the plot off course.

The main villains were supposedly connected to Chinese gangsters, but there weren't any Chinese people in the movie at all. And a few items were unclear, such as details of Tae-Sik's past and the matter of one character's survival at the end (which I won't give away).

As good as it is for The Man from Nowhere to have an effective protagonist, the film should have had better villains. As the main baddies, actors Kim Hee-Won and Kim Sung-Oh are pretty much stock, two-dimensional characters that you'd find in any action movie.

And although Thanayong Wongtrakul is fun as the Number 2 henchman, he's not fully utilized. Plus, there's a huge missed opportunity for his character twist near the end.

Who would like this movie: The Man from Nowhere is for you if you're into action movies. There's nothing in this film that can't match anything you've seen in Hollywood, and the fight sequences are definitely slick. This is a pretty straightforward revenge story, and director Lee Jeong-Beom deftly handles it.

It's got plenty of blood, but visually is not over-the-top graphic. However, there are plenty of wince-inducing moments which are either conveyed through sound effects or left to the imagination.

The movie is long, and like I mentioned earlier, it feels cumbersome at moments. It would have been much better with another round of editing, and perhaps a darker editing. The flaws in this action movie aren't fatal, but do prevent it from being stellar.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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