Director: Lee Jeong-beom
Writer: Lee Jeong-beom
Producer: Lee Tae-heon
Cast: Won Bin, Kim Sae-ron, Kim Tae-hoon, Kim Hee-won, Kim Sung-oh, Thanayong Wongtrakul, Kim Hyo-seo
Running Time: 119 min.
“The Man From Nowhere” is probably the best blind buy I’ve ever made. I decided to pick it up during release week based on the little positive word-of-mouth I’d read online. I figured: hey, it’s a new gritty Korean revenge movie, it has to be good. Little did I know that “Nowhere” would go on to become one of my favorite films of all time. This is an immaculately crafted thriller with amazing performances, crisp cinematography, and fight choreography that genuinely hurts. For action buffs and thriller fans – or anybody simply craving an amazing cinematic knife fight – it doesn’t get much better than “The Man From Nowhere.”
The plot of the film could perhaps be described as a cross between a “Bourne” movie and Luc Besson’s “Leon/The Professional.” Won Bin plays an ex-spy with a tragic past now living alone in an apartment building. Although he has closed himself off from other people, he slowly forms a bond with the little girl who lives next door. She has plenty of time to spend with Bin as her mother is a neglectful drug addict who dances at a nightclub. Eventually, the child (Sae-Ron Jim) is kidnapped due to her mother’s shady dealings.
Little do her kidnappers know, they have literally signed their own death warrants: the bad-ass Won Bin will move heaven and earth to rescue his young friend. Half of the pleasure of the film is the way it executes this simple premise while fleshing it out with detailed subplots: the police trying to solve the case act as supporting characters, as does an older gangster looking to make inroads with the Chinese mafia. The practice of using small children as drug mules is a major theme too, while Won Bin’s mysterious past is slowly revealed through heart-wrenching flashbacks.
Anyone following Won Bin’s career knows that the model/actor has always showed promise but given that his previous role was in 2009’s “Mother,” where he played a slow-witted mama’s boy charged with murder, it would have been difficult to predict just how compelling he is as a bonafied action star in “Nowhere.” Talk about a complete 180. Won Bin’s performance here is compelling and completely in control; he ably handles himself during intense fight scenes and his lean frame looks great in well-cut black suits. Whether he’s playing the soft-spoken neighbor with bangs in his eyes or, later after he shaves his head, the unrelenting warrior out for revenge, he is a revelation in this film.
Special mention must be made of Sae-Ron Jim, who delivers an authentic-feeling turn as Bin’s tiny neighbor. Let’s face it, if Sae-Ron Jim didn’t come across as adorable and worth fighting for, we wouldn’t care about Won Bin killing people for two hours to try and rescue her. Fortunately, she’s a natural when it comes to acting and she very quickly garners the audience’s sympathy, especially when she tearfully tells Won Bin that he’s the only person in her life that she actually likes. Yeah, you better believe that anybody who tries to harm this kid is gonna have several arteries opened up by Won Bin’s deadly blade.
It’s amazing to think that director Jeong-beom Lee only has one other film to his credit, “Cruel Winter Blues,” which came out in 2006 and is not widely available in America. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hollywood studios were camped outside his door with bags of money but here’s hoping he continues to help the cinematic industry of his home country flourish with more great films like “The Man From Nowhere.” Expect an American remake of this movie any day now too, though it will be difficult to find a 20-something Hollywood actor with as much screen presence and sheer physicality as Won Bin. Sure, “Nowhere” itself owes more than a little to Hollywood fare – the close quarters fighting is filmed in a style highly reminiscent of the latter two Bourne films – but, frankly, this movie does its source material one better. If you thought “Taken” was the height of action-packed revenge movies, just wait till you meet “The Man From Nowhere.”
HKFanatic’s Rating: 10/10