Sunday, March 13, 2011
The Man from Nowhere
You know the cliched moment in romantic comedies where the hitherto ugly duckling goes and gets a makeover and suddenly becomes a bombshell? Action movies have that too. It's the scene where the scruffy, hirsute main character who has already given us hints at his badassness finally cuts his hair and puts on a nice suit. That's when we know that the proverbial feces have hit the fan. I mention that because The Man from Nowhere contains a pretty good version of this scene, which reveals a lot, most notably that this is not the world's most original movie ever, but damn if it isn't a good time.
Bin Won plays Tae-Sik, a quiet pawnshop owner, who hardly says anything. So-Mi (Sae-Ron Kim), the young daughter of his next door neighbor, seems oddly drawn to him and the two have an awkward, dysfunctional relationship. Unfortunately, So-Mi's mother has stolen a lot of money right out from under the noses of warring Japanese and Chinese crime families. They come and kidnap both of them, and inadvertently involve Tae-Sik. In the ensuing chaos, the pawnshop owner proves remarkably efficient at killing and hurting people. As he sets out to find So-Mi, the criminals begin to wonder who exactly is following them.
The Man from Nowhere has a lot of the hallmarks of classic Korean thrillers. Ugly, nasty violence, especially against women and children, overwrought emotion and lots of close-ups on anguished faces, and very, very pretty cinematography. Surprisingly enough, The Man from Nowhere threw me a major curveball by having a significantly less downbeat ending than most of these movies have.
The plot, about a badass in hiding coming out to save someone, has been done a million times before, and even though they don't really try to do anything different here, it's still a LOT of fun. Equal parts a gritty Korean crime thriller like Oldboy and The Bourne Identity, the movie sets up a twisty tale of double-crosses and vendettas, and then lets its hero wonder through causing mayhem.
There are plenty of nods to classic Chinese action thrillers in here as well. There's the honorable henchman, just like in Hard Boiled, along with a scene involving Tae-Sik testing the springs in his handgun that calls to mind Roy Cheung in The Mission. And the final ten minutes of carnage look absolutely amazing, culminating in one of the best hand to hand fights I've seen since Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung went at it in Sha Po Lang.
As far as negatives, it's an entertaining movie but it has a few problems. The first is that there's really nothing new here. That doesn't stop it from being a blast, but you won't be seeing much that's surprising. Likewise, it's a little bit slow in parts, and the trademark high emotion of most Korean dramas is on high display. But all in all, it's a lot of fun and highly recommended to fans of this sort of movie.