Contributor; London
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At the time of showing, The Man From Nowhere was yet to find a UK distributor, with the very real prospect that it will never be screened again in the UK. That would be a great shame as it's just the sort of blockbuster-with-a-soul that we're sorely lacking. A crime thriller with more than a passing resemblance to its forebears, it also manages to find its own voice and overcome the genre clich├ęs that threaten to hamper it.

Last seen in Joon-ho Bong's wonderful Mother, Bin Won stars as Cha Tae-sik, a mysterious pawn shop owner haunted by a tragic past. Now retired from a previous life as a top flight special agent, he strikes up a guarded relationship with his drug smuggling neighbour and her daughter, So-mi. When said neighbour makes an error of judgement that results in both her and So-mi being kidnapped, Tae-sik becomes embroiled in the fallout and is called back to action once more. Entering a murky world of drug trafficking, organ harvesting and child labour it's quickly apparent he's someone you really shouldn't cross as he mercilessly searches for the kidnapped pair.

In terms of narrative and plot there's little new to be seen here and the innumerable cinematic reference points, from Luc Besson/Pierre Morel's Taken through Oldboy to Dante Lam's Beast Stalker, come thick and fast. Director Jeong-beom Lee has, by his own admission, not come from a highly cine-literate background, but on the evidence of this he's clearly been exposed to at least his fair share of the crime flicks. Yet somehow, through a sizzling script full of droll, crowd-pleasing one liners and charismatic performances (particular from the increasingly versatile Bin Won) it comes together in a wonderfully entertaining blockbuster with both real heart and gripping action.

Clearly too handsome to have been a special agent, Bin Won is still every bit the movie star, commanding the screen and ultimately convincing. Tae-sik's reluctance to accept the budding friendship he's forged with the impossibly sweet Som-mi leads to some truly moving scenes and adds depth to the frequent moody glances that hint at his somehow damaged psyche. He blazes a revenge-filled trail through the movie, leading to the inevitably bloody climax. The blend of laugh-out-loud humour and the grim realities of organ harvesting may not seem perfect bedfellows to audiences raised on more Hollywood-styled blockbusters but, in the context of recent Korean cinema, it's familiar and typically uncompromising in approach. A film that's mainstream through intention, yet not muted by pandering to mainstream demands.

There are some issues, notably with a couple of uninspired set-pieces. The odd flourish of imaginative camera work - at one point we follow Tae-sik run down a corridor, smash through a window and fly down onto the street outside, without (apparent) cuts - never quite elicits the visual stimulation it should, or feels quite part of the same aesthetic as the rest of the film.

Minor quibbles aside, it's an exciting, fast paced action thriller that leaves a lump in your throat and a smile on your face. If only all blockbusters could be this entertaining. Please, someone pick this up for UK distribution and do us all a favour.

The London Korean Film Festival runs until 23rd Nov - find out more here.
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More about The Man From Nowhere

MartenNovember 10, 2010 3:58 PM

One of the few Koreans films I'm looking forward to.

Anybody seen Moss? Is it any good?

James MarshNovember 10, 2010 8:40 PM

I loved this movie - very stylish, very violent & lots of fun.

xinoNovember 10, 2010 11:03 PM

never heard of this movie, and I just watched the trailer and it looked like a decent action gunning movie:/

HNovember 11, 2010 8:20 AM

I saw this at LKFF last week. I had mixed feelings: the film is obviously extremely violent in the manner of a hard-boiled actioner, and addresses tough themes, but it's also deeply sentimental and corny to an degree that would make John Woo blush. It's like being hit in the face with a mortar round of treacle. Won Bin ultimately doesn't really convince in the role (sorry) - more to do with utterly predictable plot turns and stodgy pacing, combined with showcasing his preternatural good looks - which are served up on a plate at one point, presumably as a sop to all the females who have dragged themselves to the cinema to see him. (There were appreciative squeaks thorughout the theatre when he took his shirt off, and in other reviews I're read the same thing happening. Good to know audiences are the same all over the world.) However, my reservations aside, there was a great atmosphere in the cinema, truly appreciative, and all in all a great way to start the LKFF festival.

elvinNovember 12, 2010 10:14 AM

This movie kicked ass! One of the best action movies from Asia in recent years. I like the realistic action scenes and the heartwarming story as well. Won Bin's acting range is impressive. Having seen Taegukgi, Mother and this one, he becomes my favorite Korea actor. I will definitely lookout for his movies. Isn't he the most gorgeous-looking Asian action heroes? I predict he will hit it big.

CashitFebruary 4, 2011 8:26 PM

Bin Won as the pawn shop owner is really authentic! I love that film!