It’s pretty easy to find a film that will make my jaw drop. Whether it’s a tear-jerking story or beautifully shot film, when I fall for a movie, I tend to fall hard and fast. But I have never fallen faster or harder than I did for Lee Jeong-beom’s Korean thriller, “The Man From Nowhere”. It’s one of those films that I recommend to every film fan I meet, especially those who haven’t indulged in a Korean action film before. I first went into this film knowing nothing about it, and came out a changed movie-goer. Despite it’s international praise, I’m surprised that it doesn’t have more of a following here in the U.S., and I hope to change that today.
The story for “The Man From Nowhere” is like a cross between Luc Besson’s notable works, “Leon: The Professional” and “Taken”. It follows a similar formula: a man is on a mission to rescue a girl from a violent entity, whether it’s gangs or the slave trade. “The Man From Nowhere” is about Cha Tae-sik, a pawnshop owner who keeps to himself, but finds companionship in his next door neighbor, a little girl named So-Mi. Like him, she is also an outcast in her age-group, often neglected by her mother and left to fend for herself. They strike up a friendship, but it’s quickly put to the test when So-mi’s mother steals a drug stash from a notorious local crime syndicate. Caught by the gang members, So-mi and her mother are kidnapped, leaving Cha Tae-sik to search for them. His pursuit is violent and restless as he stalks the city like a vigilante, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake that the local police start to track, along with uncovering Tae-sik’s shady past.
The Classic Reluctant Rescuer
Similar to Liam Neeson’s character in “Taken”, Cha Tae-sik is a very unassuming-looking man with a particular set of skills acquired over a long career as a secret agent. However, Tae-sik’s personality is like that of Jean Reno’s Leon from “The Professional”: a recluse, a loner, who has few allies and suffers from the loss of a woman. It’s a healthy balance between the two, along with brilliant (and award-winning) acting from Won Bin that make this character stand out. I think it’s a classic role that I wish was more present in rescue thrillers, but most of the time it’s with big name actors or big personalities that don’t quite fit that mold.
Cha Tae-sik is mesmerizing to watch: he began as a man warming up to a little girl, and once she is gone he quickly descends into the cold, calculating mind that his former occupation called for. He’s more than a match for the villains in the film, and while they match each other in cunning, he is clearly the more skilled physically. So-mi is also no small role or demure, hopeless girl. With street smarts on her side, she performs tasks while holding out hope that somehow she can escape her captivity.
A Reason for Violence
Take heed: this film is bloody. It doesn’t shy away from the brutal depictions of violence, and makes every shot seem like it’s deserved. The fight scenes are gloriously choreographed, with impressive improvisation moves from Cha Tae-sik utilizing the environment around him a lot. The violent scenes are also a strong contrast to the pop-funk neon of the city and nightclubs, where a lot of this film takes place. And that ending fight, whatever you do, do not look away from the screen; it’s truly a sight to behold.
“Taken” or “The Professional” depict their secondary gangsters as mostly one-offs, who are evil by association with the main “evil entity” and must be punished. But what was unique about “The Man From Nowhere” was that you were given visual reasons to hate each and every henchman that fell at the hands of Cha Tae-sik. It made it seem all the more satisfying. One gangster is sexually assaulting a girl right before he meets his end; another gangster is an sadistic doctor with an addiction to getting high before surgery; lastly, another is pushing drugs at a strip joint, insults the police, and gets off his crime scott-free, only to be met with death.
The villains are particularly despicable. I thought Gary Oldman’s character in “The Professional” was cringe-worthy in all the right emotional ways, but our main antagonists here, brothers Man-seok and Jong-seok, are organ harvesters and child abusers who are particularly revolting. Thankfully, I think you’ll be satisfied in how they met their ends in a way that befit their crimes.
The Guilty Pleasure Rescue Film
“The Man From Nowhere”, “The Professional” and “Taken” are three fantastic rescue films that tug at the heartstrings and grip you with tension at every minute. However, if I had to choose between the three to watch repeatedly, I would choose “The Man From Nowhere”. It’s a perfect balance of beautiful imagery and violence, along with a gripping story and a completely satisfying ending. It also helps that they had a wonderful soundtrack, with great timing on when to play up the instrumentals and play down.
If you just want to have a fun night in with the bae or with friends, or want to let off some steam without a trip to the gym, I can’t recommend “The Man From Nowhere” enough. It will take your breath away, and introduce you to the rising popularity of great Korean cinema. Check it out on Netflix now, before it’s gone from Instant Play! (For a double-feature, “The Professional” is also on Netflix right now as well.)
Want more fuel for your fire? Check out the trailer below (but ignore the cheesy tagline cards):