THE MAN FROM NOWHERE (2010)
A tense and raw action thriller which stacks the revenge narrative with heart and emotional punch, anchored by a superb Won Bin performance
Perhaps the most miraculous aspect of the Korean revenge genre is not its overall size, but the ways it reinvents and retells tales of bloody retribution.
There is more of that characteristic stylish violence and action here, but there is also an emotional core that would dampen the eyes of the most nihilistic ultra-violence cinemagoer.
The onscreen bond between Won Bin’s Tae-sik and Kim Sae-ron's So-mi, a young girl who visits Tae-sik's pawnshop, is realised by two fine performances that makes the journey of these two outcasts who find each other so believable.
Tae-sik is a quiet, recluse and his only friend is So-mi, who lives in the neighbourhood with her mother Hyo-jeong (Kim Hyo-seo), a lap dancer and heroin addict.
Hyo-jeong steals a large pack of heroin and pawns it at Tae-sik's shop for safe keeping. The theft provokes the attention of an underworld drug gang who come looking for the bag. However, it soon appears that Tae-sik is no shy shopkeeper when challenged by the gang’s enforcers.
When his soft spot for So-mi is unveiled, she is kidnapped and Tae-sik evokes his more violent past in an attempt to track her down.
The film seems to own a large debt to Kim Sun-woo's brilliant ‘A Bittersweet Life’ (2005), both in terms of its stylised violence and revenge themes, but also in the ‘you messed with the wrong guy with nothing to lose’ spines of both central protagonists.
“I only live for today. I'll show you just how fucked up that can be,” warns Tae-sik in a line which could have seemed overripe in other films, but perfectly sets-up the focused and violent pursuit that Tae-sik unleashes.
Korean cinema never shies away from films which hinge on the performances of young actors and the child exploitation aspects of the films are suitably illuminated by the young cast here.
The film would mark the last major onscreen performance of Won Bin, who continued to burst out of the seams of his heartthrob casing just as he did in Bong Joon-ho's ‘Mother’ (2009) with an intense performance, perfectly encapsulating the moody loner and then all-action star hell-bent on finding the girl.
Action fans will find plenty in the fight scenes and there is the blood-smeared violence you expect from Korean thrillers (those who get squeamish over eyes and eyeballs might need to advert their own at times).
However, what takes The Man from Nowhere onto another level is the emotional investment the film creates. Because of this, the film emotionally drains viewers, offering a small slice of what our characters undertake.
You care, deeply, about the fortunes of Tae-sik and So-mi. Even when the odds seem impossible and everyone from the underground army of enforcers and police force are closing in, you find yourself willing them to safety with every breath.
This is a violent thriller with a heart that flows with raw emotion throughout, creating an action-filled tear-jerker which is truly unmissable.