The Man From Nowhere: A Review

I finally watched this film last night – in the middle of the night, in the dark of my room. I don’t think that was necessarily wise, but if I needed to cower from the gore, at least I was under my blanket covers.

This movie is amazing. It’s ridiculous how long it’s taken me to watch it, because I think this movie should have been gobbled up as soon as it was available. The film was the hit of 2010 in Korea, and it’s no wonder as we see Won Bin‘s character spiral into madness in his race to save his only friend in the world, his young neighbor (Kim Sae Ron).

Quick summary: Won Bin is pawnshop owner Cha Tae Shik, and Kim Sae Ron is a young second-grader Jung So Mi. So Mi is mostly left alone by her dancer-drug addicted mother, and so she constantly goes to Tae Shik to sell her stuff or to hang out with him. Because Tae Shik is a loner, most people don’t have a good impression of him.

 

When So Mi’s mother gets involved in a drug delivery gone wrong, both she and her daughter are kidnapped, and Tae Shik is drawn into a deadly game between warring drug lords. While he chases the Seok Brothers – Man Seok (Kim Hee Won) and Jong Seok (a thrilling Kim Sung Oh) – he himself is chased by the DEA detectives. It’s a race against time when he realizes that So Mi is being used by the Seok Brothers as a drug smuggler for the gangs, and will have her organs harvested the moment she becomes useless to them.

Impressions:

I came to this film thinking that there wasn’t going to be much of a story – just a guy wanting to get a girl back. It’s kinda like how I approached that Liam Neeson film “Taken.” But once the story got going, it got deeper, and more twisted, and more interesting. I also thought that Won Bin’s character was going to remain unnamed, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that his character was named.

It’s not just a vengeance story, but a story of redemption, of protecting those you have the power to protect, and a story of the terrors of drug smuggling. Won Bin humanizes his character, who is a cold-blooded, former black-ops agent. He could have easily remained as a cold, aloof character, but we learn why he is such a softie inside, and why he has such a tough exterior. We understand his pain, and the reason why he does the things he does. It’s not just guilt towards her that drives him forward, but also survivor’s guilt for his past. I love watching him go through stages of fear for So Mi, of anger, of heartbreak, of absolute need to survive, and then of absolute grief.

As for Kim Sae Ron, I can now see why everyone’s fussing about her. She’s the light-hearted foil to Won Bin, and holds her own against him quite well, but also manages to turn on the waterworks convincingly when need be. She has very little screen time compared to Won Bin, and so in the few moments that she has with him, she has to convince the audience that she is someone he will care about. And I am convinced; she has this certain aura that makes you think, “Yeah Cha Tae Shik – why are you so mean to her?!” because she never sounds annoying despite being such a troublemaker.

Kim Sung Oh is also another winner. He is SUCH A SLEAZY character, which is weird to see in perspective of his timid secretary character in Secret Garden. I don’t doubt his ability to play a criminal, since he was a crazed serial killer in Sign, but he doesn’t fail to impress me at how disgusting he can be. And comedic at the same time. His character is ruthlessly murderous, but also the spoiled younger one of the two Seok Brothers, so when things don’t go his way, he would throw random tantrums.

 

This film does not shy away from the graphic nudity and gore from the action scenes. I had heard that the action scenes were great in this film, so every time Tae Shik had a fight, I would wait for something miraculous to happen. I have high standards mind you; a fight scene needs to be original and cinematic for me to actually say, “That’s an awesome fight scene.” The most memorable is in “Oldboy,” as Choi Min Sik fights off a gang of hoodlums and the camera follows him in a parallel manner, sliding forwards and backwards as Choi Min Sik advances or retreats. So I was mostly unimpressed in the film until we reached the final confrontation, where Tae Shik faces freelance assassin Ramrowan (Thai actor Thanayong Wongtrakul, who is SUCH a looker). In a knife fight, the camera changes angles and shows the fight through the eyes of either character. You get a close up on Ramrowan staring at the camera as he slices towards Tae Shik’s face, and a close up on Tae Shik as he blocks Ramrowan’s every move. It’s visually awesome because usually the audience sees the fight as a third person, an omniscient viewer who can see all the angles and all the sides. But now, we get to see the fight as if we were in it.

It’s an incredibly long movie, running nearly two hours in length. I watched this in the middle of the night, so I shivered at every slice and stab that produced copious amounts of blood. But despite how tired I was, I could not look away. I could not stop watching. I highly recommend this film if you are an action film fan, a fan of a good drama, or in love with Won Bin. I have not seen this guy act since Autumn in My Heart, and since he got out of the army, so this film just proved to me that he can really act. That he’s amazing. That he’s the Korean Matt Damon.

The ending I won’t spoil, but it’s bittersweet – and I honestly wish that it would not end.

Rating: 10/10

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11 comments

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  1. DMKO 22 January, 2012 at 21:19 Reply

    thanks for the recap of this movie. I haven’t seen it yet but I appreciate that you put up the nice body shot of Won Bin. Aaah!

  2. diorama 22 January, 2012 at 22:22 Reply

    Thank you for writing this! I too started watching this movie at night and then wimped out early, hehe. Scary images + me at night does not equal happy dreams. I think I’ll have to watch it again in daylight, if only for Won Bin and Kim Sae Ron.

  3. D 22 January, 2012 at 22:52 Reply

    Kim Rae Won pinged my radar when watching this but she completely and absolutely won me over in Can You Hear My Heart….she is fantastic and my favorite find of 2011…you should check out CYHMH is you can….’course that will be tough considering the ton of kdramas around these days…also Kim Sung Ho surprized me as well here and I decided to keep an eye pit for him after this drama but that has been tough considering the dramas he’s picked

  4. infiniti512 23 January, 2012 at 00:19 Reply

    Autum in my Heart was my first drama and he caught my eye, just a month before he went to the army. Since then, I have seen every one of his works, including experiencing the joy of watching Mother at the local theater. Watching Mother, and then this, you can really see what kind of range he has. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

  5. Eliza Bennet 23 January, 2012 at 04:40 Reply

    I really liked this film a lot. The actor I didn’t care for in the film is Kim Sae Ron, I seriously don’t get all the fuss about her. This performance didn’t impress me. Other this minor complaint I thought the film was very very good.

    I liked the action scenes and the action careography but this film also pulled my heartstrings.

    Won Bin, not only good looking but also a very good actor.

  6. Denali 24 January, 2012 at 09:51 Reply

    I would never have watched this movie by myself. Instead seeing with Korean officials for a film festival was kinda epic, with English subtitles plus delayed French subs. ^^

    That was waaaay too much blood, fighting and gore scenes for this poor heart of mine [especially in the car’s trunk, gulp]. At least Won Bin’s performance saved the day and I second your motion of having an alternative end. Or a sequel?

    A few times, Kim Sae Ron lost me and I could totally see that she was ACTING which is understandable at her young age, I guess.

    The biggest surprise for me was mesmerizing Thai actor Thanayong Wongtrakul. He oozes with such an aura of manliness and his fluent English was delightful to hear. In fact, I googled him right after the screening. lol

  7. kaedejun 24 January, 2012 at 10:42 Reply

    It’s interesting because initially, I thought Kim Sae Ron was nothing. However, when I realized that I cared about her, that she evoked that certain emotion from me, then I realized that she has pull and talent. There were two instances that made me feel strongly for her: 1) her reaction when her mother entered a drug-fueled ecstasy, and 2) when she told Tae Shik that she could never hate him.

    True she may not be the best, but I don’t expect much from a kid-actor. She has plenty of ways to go.

  8. estel 24 January, 2012 at 22:39 Reply

    I saw this in the theater while I was in Korea two summers ago. Man. It was intense on the big screen with surround sound. And I never even recognized Kim Sung-oh when I saw him again in Secret Garden, his mannerisms and style were so different. I think both projects are a testament to his acting ability.

    Did you ever see 71-Into the Fire? That was another one that came out that summer, and I saw it in the theater, too. Intense. Really good, and TOP was surprisingly decent – even great – in it.

    • kaedejun 24 January, 2012 at 22:51 Reply

      Oh yes – definitely saw Into the Fire in the theaters too. That film was amazing, and I really enjoyed TOP. I actually wanted Kwon Sang Woo to just shut up and die if TOP could live. Hah.

  9. JLR 27 January, 2012 at 15:59 Reply

    Great review. I was lucky enough to see this in the theater here in the States (thanks to JS Media & Entertainment, which for awhile there was bringing first-run Korean movies to some AMC theaters over here–not sure if they still do that). I liked it so much, I went back and saw it again the next weekend. I had to close my eyes for some of the fighting, though. I bought it on DVD, and I still have to close my eyes. I just don’t handle it well.

    I think you are right on about Kim Sae Ron. She definitely made you see the connection between her and her ahjussi. And I looooved Won Bin in this. He totally made me a fan. It was a little hard to *stay* a fan after I saw the shirt he wore to a press conference for the movie. But I’ve just decided to block that image from my memory and just think of him dressed like he was in the movie.

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