You Gotta See This: The Man from Nowhere

Stars: Bin Won, Thanayong Wongtrakul, Sae-ron Kim

Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, drug content and brief nudity, 2010, Action/Drama

Compare to: Leon the Professional (1994), Man on Fire (2004)

I’ve mentioned before about trying to spread out the Korean/subtitled movies on here for the sake of the more casual moviegoer. A lot of people tell me how much they just hate subtitles but if you cancel them out altogether, you’re missing a lot of good stuff.

Such is the case for The Man from Nowhere; a movie that needs to be viewed by any fan of action, but especially a viewer who feels like they’ve seen it all. Since the last Korean film overview was a couple months ago, you’re about due, I’d say.

 Cha Tae-sik lives a quiet, solitary life working at a small pawn shop. He doesn’t talk to anyone, he doesn’t seem to do anything, and nobody knows anything about him. His only connection to the real world is a little girl, So-mi, who basically just annoys him. So-mi’s mother is a heroin addict and gets caught up with a nearby gang. After paying a terrible price for her lifestyle, So-mi is kidnapped by the gang and the only person that can help her, unlikely as he may be, is Cha Tae-sik.

But he IS capable.

But he IS capable.

Nothing I could say could make this movie sound as good as it is. It takes that “one man against everybody” approach to action and goes further than most screenwriters probably even think about going. When I think about the overall plot, it’s somewhat cliched.

The “hero” goes to save a life that doesn’t mean much to others, but everything to him. Yet when you view it, it feels anything but cliche. Even down to the little things. Instead of having any annoying kid play the part of So-mi, they really make you understand that this is just some little screwed up orphan to everyone but our protag. When we understand why our hero is as cold and broken as he is, it falls in line with your standard “something bad happened to him” back story, yet it’s depicted so viscerally, you still feel for Ta-sik.

Even with that hair.

Even with that hair.

Every hero needs a good villain. It’s what makes the hero, of course. Batman to Joker, Optimus Prime to Megatron, Cha Tae-sik to a brutal gang of crackheads, organ traffickers, killers and degenerates. Yes, organ stealers. That’s the kind of thing I mean when I say they go further than most screenwriters. The execution of the gang’s dealings and methods of “business” is not done in the way Human Retardipede would like you to see the villains; twisted and cool. No, they make you hate this gang. With a couple twists, it’s what the Punisher movies could have been. But hey, Hollywood, take your time getting that story right.

Any time Tae-sik takes out a drug lab/what have you, you’re never quite sure how it’s going to happen and as I’ve mentioned in previous overviews, unpredictability in movies is an especially rare thing nowadays. In these knife/gun/fist fights, any of them could be Tae-sik’s last, and if you know Korean cinema, often times the end comes too soon for characters you expected to last the entire film.

For the record, no, I don’t think of the Human Centipede villain as being twisted and cool. I hate everything that kind of film making is about and I’m confused as to how it was made. But hey, as the saying goes, “Stupidity has a knack of getting its way.”

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So while most of Tae-sik’s villains are made up of grown children who treat their disgusting transactions and products like a kid with an allowance he doesn’t deserve, there is one particular villain that plays a part that is very seldomly involved in cinema. Thanayong Wongtrakul plays Ramrowan, the gang’s lead enforcer. He walks a very thin line here between just another lead antagonist and anti-villain, a perfect foil for our anti-hero.

But alas! I have yet to discuss our hero. I won’t give too much away here because I do want you to watch this, so I’ll be general. Bin Won plays our guy and it’s crazy what a few aesthetic changes can do to a guy. I’ve only seen him in one other film where he plays a mentally handicapped mama’s boy (Mother, 2009, also good), so to have him play a hardcore killer would seem like a stretch, had I watched the movies in opposite order. On one hand, he comes off like a pretty boy, too skinny and quiet to pose a threat. Yet on the other hand, the choreography and quick editing really make you believe this guy could take out an entire army. I have to commend Won for doing such a great job in the fight scenes (and there are a lot) but then I’d also have to give credit to anybody involved in the scenes.

As listed above, fists, guns, and knives are all used and they are all used with deadly accuracy in Tae-sik’s world. I hate overselling movies I love, but these are some of the best fight scenes I’ve ever seen watched. Especially bloody as well and not for the weak-stomached.

It was one of those gems a friend happen to come upon, otherwise, I might never have seen it, and it reopened my eyes to what the action genre could be. There’s nothing “original,” because everything’s already been done. But dang it, if we can’t at least give credit to the movies and filmmakers that are attempting their own story; not just a remake and not just an adaption.

Here are some pretty cool posters.

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