Parts “Taken” with a large splash of 2004’s “Man on Fire”, South Korea’s “The Man from Nowhere” is not exactly original by any stretch of the imagination. Then again, the same thing that made those other two films so good was the premise – mean-on-the-outside, but a teddy-bear-on-the-inside loner has to resort to his old, deadly ways when bad guys take the one precious female in his life away by force. Much badassery, as they say, commences. As Bryan Mills had to blow shit up and take no names in “Taken” and Creasy had to obliterate half of Mexico City, so too does Tae-Sik have to take out the Korean underworld in order to retrieve a spunky little gal that has invaded his life and given it meaning again.
“The Man from Nowhere” stars Bin Won (“Taegukgi”) as Tae-Sik, a former Government killer who, after one of his jobs comes back to bite him in the ass, has retired to a solitary life running a pawnshop in a rundown building. His only remaining contact with the human race is little So-Mi (Sae-ron Kim), who often seeks shelter at Tae-Sik’s pawnshop thanks to the activities of her drug-addled mother (Hyo-Jeong). When that same mother decides it would be a blast to steal the mob’s money, the mob, in the form of two sadistic brothers, comes calling. The mother ends up dead and So-Mi taken, leaving Tae-Sik to resort to his old ways to save her. Meanwhile, a crusading cop finds himself on Tae-Sik’s trail, unsure of how the stranger fits into all the mob drug activity and, as it turns out, a thriving human organs black market.
As mentioned, there is not really anything overly original about the premise behind “The Man from Nowhere”, but if you are a fan of this particular plot, it will be very easy to like “Nowhere”. The film is bolstered by excellent production values, and what turns out to be quite a killer performance by Bin Won, who must have wanted to play a badass again after playing anything but in Joon-ho Bong’s “Mother”, a film that has garnered him critical acclaim. I have to admit, Tae-Sik does not exactly elicit fear when you first see him, and I blame that on the manga-ish, boy band-inspired haircut that covers half of his face like some emo Hong Kong pop star. Also, Bin Won is a bit too young to be playing such a skilled killer. Then again, once the bullets fly and the knives and the axes come out to play, it’s pretty easy to buy into Tae-Sik, despite his obvious youth, as one badass mofo you do not want to cross.
A physical and convincing Bin Won clearly carries the movie, and he gets some help in the ass-kicking department from Thai actor Thanayong Wongtrakul, here playing a Vietnamese killer for hire in the employ of the two brothers. The film features a number of excellent action sequences throughout its nearly two hours, but the two highlights both feature Tae-Sik and Wongtrakul’s Ramrowan going at it, first in a nightclub bathroom, then later in the bad guy’s lair for all the marbles. Needless to say, once you’ve learned Tae-Sik’s history, none of the bad guys really stand much of a chance, though Ramrowan certainly gives our hero a run for his money. Like Mills and Creasy before him, Tae-Sik is not spared his share of the pain. He gets shot, stabbed, thrown off cars, and generally put through the wringer, all the while dishing out plenty of pain himself. The film also features a standout knife sequence toward the end.
There is no room for a love interest in “The Man from Nowhere”, since the love of a good woman would only complicate our hero’s quest to kill everyone who stands in his way and blow shit up when the mood strikes him. And besides, films of this type always works better when the hero has a singular goal — save the kid/daughter. The cops are there to provide plenty of filler material, mostly with subplots about the drug underworld, though they are not very interesting. Government spooks eventually appear to battle the cops over territory, but like a former comrade who shows up to aide Tae-Sik in his time of need, they are soon tossed aside in favor of bloody mayhem and our hero’s quest for vengeance.
As revenge thrillers go, “The Man from Nowhere” ranks as one of the best I’ve seen. It is bloody, the bad guys are pretty bad (if a tad too colorful for my tastes), and though the plot progresses as you would expect, it is a well-executed, well-acted, and incredibly satisfying film. Writer/director Jeong-beom Lee (“Cruel Winter Blues”) clearly owes a lot to Tony Scott’s “Man on Fire” (itself a remake of a 1987 movie), and unfortunately he does not veer too much from what Scott already did in his revenge tale. However, as a fan of the genre, I’m willing to forgive him for that, especially since the results are just so damn well done across the board. Finally, you will believe a guy who looks like an emo garage band lead singer can beat your brains in. (He couldn’t shave those bangs off fast enough, though…)
Jeong-beom Lee (director) / Jeong-beom Lee (screenplay)
CAST: Bin Won … Tae-Sik
Hyo-seo Kim … Hyo-Jeong
Sae-ron Kim … So-Mi Jeong
Hee-won Kim … Man-seok
Tae-hoon Kim … Chi-gon
Thanayong Wongtrakul … Ramrowan