×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Man From Nowhere

Brutal violence dominates the dynamic, glossy Korean thriller "The Man from Nowhere."

With:
With: Won Bin, Kim Sae-ron, Kim Hyo-seo, Song Yeong-cheong, Kim Hee-won, Kim Tae-hun, Kim Song-oh, Lee Jong-pil, Thanayong Wongtrakul, Song Yeong-chang, Baek Soo-ryeon. (Korean, English, Mandarin dialogue)

Brutal violence dominates the dynamic Korean thriller “The Man From Nowhere.” Local heartthrob Won Bin (“Mother,” “Tae Guk Gui”) transforms himself into an action hero in writer-helmer Lee Jeong-beom’s swift and blood-soaked yarn, about a mystery man who gets caught up in a gang war while trying to protect a child, recalling Luc Besson’s “The Professional.” This August release went boffo to become the Korean peninsula’s biggest hit of 2010, with a still-rising cume of $40 million. Genre elements will be too familiar to warrant theatrical distribution outside Asia, but prospects are promising for the global ancillary market.

A bedraggled stranger (Won) works as a pawnbroker while living in a Seoul slum’s rundown basement. Going by the name “a-jeo-ssi” (Korean for “Mister” and the pic’s domestic title), the man avoids the junkies and deadbeats who inhabit his building, but has a soft spot for youngster So-mi (Kim Sae-ron, “A Brand New Life”), who often visits him to escape her violent home life.

So-mi’s drug-addicted exotic-dancer mother, Hyo-Jeong (Kim Hyo-seo), gets in over her head when she steals a package of heroin belonging to local gang leader Oh (Song Yeong-cheong), who aims to push the drug into the lucrative mainland Chinese market. Oh sends his two brother lieutenants — the no-nonsense Man-seok (Kim Hee-won) and the wild-eyed Jong-suk (an over-the-top Kim Song-oh) — to retrieve the stolen drugs.

Though indifferent to Hyo-jeong’s fate, Mister finds himself moved to action when he realizes So-mi has been kidnapped. Navigating the city’s sleazy underbelly, the stranger raises the ire of the local gangs as he pursues his self-appointed mission. Seoul police, lead by Det. Kim Chi-gon (Kim Tae-hun), have enough trouble keeping track of shifting gang rivalries (as will auds), but are even more confused when the unknown vigilante appears to be helping them out.

Won reinvents himself here as an action star, revitalizing the thesping career that was recently put on hold due to his military service. With bangs obscuring most of his face and a mannered, guarded attitude that hides his character’s sentimental motives, Won is commanding, and always seems ready to explode. A scene in which a semi-naked Won flexes his muscles while cutting his hair is sensational, and arguably more compelling than pic’s high-level violence.

Tyke thesp Kim Sae-ron endears throughout. Supporting cast also impresses, from Kim Song-oh’s delirious childlike gangster, to Thanayong Wongtrakul’s refined but vicious Vietnamese thug and Baek Soo-ryeon’s sinister but dignified aging child trafficker.

Helmer Lee Jeong-beom (“Cruel Winter Blues”) shows a flair for action sequences, squeezing tension out of every fight scene choregraphed by Park Jung-ryul. While helmer knows when to pause for effect, the pic sustains momentum over its nearly two-hour running time, and Lee offers the viewer so little time to breathe, let alone think, that he seems to be protecting his script from deeper examination.

“The Man From Nowhere” reps further evidence of the current trend toward extreme violence in contempo Korean cinema, and some unnecessarily ghoulish moments nudge pic into horror terrain. In a perhaps unintentional nod to decorum, the lurid sexual tension established between So-mi and Won’s Mister early on is considerably diluted by the near-total separation of the two characters over the course of the film.

Commercial-slick lensing creates a dark milieu that reflects the characters’ external and internal lives. Other tech credits are topnotch.

The Man From Nowhere

South Korea

Production: A CJ Entertainment release of a CJ Entertainment, United Pictures presentation of an Opus Pictures production. (International sales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul.) Produced by Lee Tae-hun. Executive producers, Kathrine Kim, Lee Tae-hun. Directed, written by Lee Jeong-beom.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen) Lee Tae-yoon; editor, Kim Sang-bum; music, Shim Hyun-jung; production designer, Yang Hong-sam; costume designer, Jang Ju-hee; sound (Dolby Digital), Kim Suk-won; action director, Park Jung-ryul. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (Korean Cinema Today), Oct. 10, 2010. (Also in Hawaii Film Festival.) Running time: 119 MIN.

With: With: Won Bin, Kim Sae-ron, Kim Hyo-seo, Song Yeong-cheong, Kim Hee-won, Kim Tae-hun, Kim Song-oh, Lee Jong-pil, Thanayong Wongtrakul, Song Yeong-chang, Baek Soo-ryeon. (Korean, English, Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Of Fathers and Sons

    Producer of Oscar-Nommed Syria Documentary Could Miss Awards Due to Visa Problem

    A German producer’s hopes to attend Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, where his film is up for an Oscar, look likely to be dashed by tightened U.S. Department of Homeland Security restrictions and increased bureaucracy. Hans Robert Eisenhauer is one of the producers of “Of Fathers and Sons,” director Talal Derki’s film about a radical Islamist [...]

  • Speaker of the United States House

    Nancy Pelosi, Ava DuVernay Honored at VH1 Trailblazers Event

    Cher is feeling a little better about what’s happening in Washington, D.C. “When I see Trump spew his hate and tell his gazillion lies, I get pissed off and feel uneasy at the same time,” the Oscar winner and frequent Trump critic said on Wednesday while introducing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at “VH1 [...]

  • Most Memorable Oscar Speeches in Academy

    The Most Memorable Oscar Speeches in Academy History

    No Academy Awards is complete without some emotional acceptance speeches on stage – and some political ones to boot. With just 90 seconds to make an impact, many actors have used the platform as a voice for political change, calling attention to hot-button issues like climate change and gender equality, while others have simply reveled [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    Jussie Smollett Arrested, in Custody of Chicago Police

    Jussie Smollett has been arrested and faces criminal charges for allegedly filing a false police report and for disorderly conduct. Chicago police tweeted Thursday morning that the “Empire” actor was under arrest and in custody of detectives. Smollett claimed that he had been attacked by two men on Jan. 29 — he said they beat [...]

  • Billie Holiday (1915-1959, born Eleanora Fagan)

    Billie Holiday Documentary Draws Buyers as Concord Boards Project

    Concord, the successor to the Billie Holiday Estate, has boarded James Erskine’s documentary “Billie,” which tracks the iconic jazz singer’s life. Altitude Film Sales has sold the project to several territories. Also joining the project, now in post-production, is the Brazilian colorization artist Marina Amaral. Most of the filmed and still images that exist of [...]

  • My Extraordinary Summer With Tess review

    Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess'

    Winner of a special mention from the Berlinale Generation KPlus’ adult jury, the family-friendly, light drama “My Extraordinary Summer With Tess” is straightforward youth cinema with surprising emotional depth. Based on a prize-winning novel by Anna Woltz, a beloved Dutch writer of work for young readers, it explores family relationships and emphasizes the importance of [...]

  • UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report: Women, Minorities

    Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

    Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content