Tae-Sik Cha (Bin Won) is the titular ‘Man from Nowhere’ – an ex special forces agent haunted by his past, eking out an existence running a pawn shop in a run down South Korean slum. his only friend So-mi (Sae-ron Kim) a young girl who lives next door with her druggie mother.
When So-mi’s mother cheats a gang of mobsters lead by two twisted brothers who deal in trafficking drugs, child labour and harvesting black market body parts the whole family suffers as they are kidnapped in retribution for the mother’s actions.
Unable to sit by and let an innocent life be ruined Tae-Sik Cha sets off to hunt down the gang pursued by the police who believe he is involved and doing whatever it takes to save his only friend in the world.
Shooting, stabbing and breaking bones to get to the top in his own words as he says to one of the gang – “Guys living for tomorrow have no chance against a guy living for today. I live for today. I’m going to show you how terrible it’s going to be.”
Written and directed by newcomer Jeong-beom Lee The Man From Nowhere is an action thriller whose influences are obvious from the get go. Taking in many ways from Luc Besson’s brilliant Taken as well as his classic Leon there are also stylistic and storyline swipes from the equally excellent Asian auteur’s Takeshi Kitano and John Woo.
All of this is fine however the film falls flat by failing to innovate beyond its own origins and references and all the echo’s of other movies and directors simply serves to illuminate the failings of the plot, pace and set pieces and the simple fact that it is not as good as those pictures it desperately wants to be.
That said there are some things to recommend this movie on predominantly the central performances by the brilliant Bin Won, last seen in a polar opposite performance in Mother, and the young and talented Sae-ron Kim.
As the soul of the story Sae-ron Kim never over acts, avoiding being too cutesy and unrealistic or too angst ridden and traumatised, embodying the symbol of innocents and hope to Bin Won’s ex-secret agent which he so desperately needs.
Bin Won’s man from nowhere evokes Clint Eastwood’s man with no name rarely speaking yet showing all the angst, rage and emotion in his expressions and his actions most of which result in face smashing and blood spilling.
His physical prowess as a martial artist is unquestionable and the fights are well choreographed and very graphic confusingly switching between realistic and cartoon violence but culminating in a spectacular end sequences with a brutal knife fight, which will make you winces and gawp in equal measures.
The Man from Nowhere has already smashed box office records in its native land becoming the highest grossing movie of 2010 and sweeping the board at the Korea Film Awards winning a bunch of prizes and while the film many firmly proves Koreas continued power as a film making force it sadly does not succeed in transcending its obvious influences.
For Korean cinema buffs, Bin Won fans and fanatic knife fight enthusiasts only my advise is to wait till the release of Jee-woon Kim’s stunningly similar story lined yet far slicker, sicker and superior I Saw the Devil which will be with us latter this month and reviewed on this site.