My favorite director of all-time is none other than John Woo. So, yeah, I am a sucker for a good Asian action film. I randomly stumbled across The Man from Nowhere while browsing through Netflix and I am glad that I did! What an unbelievably good film from South Korea.
The Man from Nowhere stars Bin Won as a mysterious loner, Cha Tae-sik. He is befriended by his neighbor’s daughter, an adorable and equally lonely little girl So-mi (Sae-ron Kim). So-mi’s mother is a stripper who is inattentive to her daughter leaving her to wander off and get into mischief. While Cha begins to grow a connection to the little girl, who secretly paints a butterfly design on one of his nails while he’s asleep, her mother gets into trouble with some drug traffickers and they are kidnapped.
Why only a dollar, Mister?
Cha is then promised that if he does one drug delivery for the drug runners the mother and daughter will be set free. He agrees to the exchange. Unknown he becomes part of a larger plot to eliminate a rival drug trafficker. Cha flees the scene in a stolen car and in the trunk he finds So-mi’s mother…and all of her organs are missing. Not only is he dealing with drug traffickers but also organ traffickers. Cha is arrested, but he soon escapes, and then goes out on a vigilante one man war against the traffickers to save little S0-mi before she is killed.
One of the things that the film does so well is that the filmmakers take the time in the beginning to establish the two man characters, Cha and So-mi. There’s a scene early on where So-mi confides in Cha that there is nobody she likes and that it hurts her “here” as she points to her chest. You are immediately hit on an emotional level that so many action films lack. It immediately reminded me of Man on Fire which I had just re-watched a little over a week prior to seeing this.
The filmmakers also leave us in the dark about Cha’s past. We slowly grow to learn who he is, that he has a “particular set of skills”, and something traumatic happened to him in the past which led him down the path of a loner. As we grow to care for this character, the action sequences, which are expertly choreographed and shot, have more depth and meaning because we care about Cha. The film does devolve towards the end to a standard blood and guts revenge film, but the buildup is key, because there is actual substance and depth the action scenes have more immediacy.
You only live for tomorrow. The ones who live for tomorrow always get (destroyed) by those who live for today…I only live for today.
To say that The Man from Nowhere isn’t the most original plot is an understatement. Right from the get go we are reminded of Man on Fire and perhaps Leon: The Professional. Hell, there are even elements of Taken and Cha becomes the Korean version of Jason Bourne without the memory loss. However, what the filmmakers did with this movie is use all of those familiar elements and cook up an emotionally fueled action epic that is different from a lot of the crap coming from Hollywood these days.
Overall, I give The Man from Nowhere a B+. There are no real complaints about it only that it lacks somewhat in originality and the last thirty minutes it becomes a gore fest. The action is solid, with some outstanding hand to hand, knife fight, and gun fight choreography. Through it all, it is the attention to the film’s characters that drives this movie over the heap of steaming crap of the modern Hollywood sequel fest. If you have Netflix, you have no excuse to miss out on it, unless you can’t handle reading subtitles. Personally, I bought the Bluray as soon as the final credits scrolled up my big screen. Highly recommended.